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Texas ends polygamous-sect custody cases

/ Source: The Associated Press

Child welfare authorities have decided that the courts no longer need to oversee 34 children taken from a polygamous sect's ranch in west Texas.

The action does not necessarily end Child Protective Services' involvement with the children, but it means officials believe they can be kept safe without court intervention, agency spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said Friday.

Child Protective Services filed papers in San Angelo on Thursday asking that the cases involving 10 families be dropped, and a judge agreed. They represent the first children dropped from court oversight in the case.

While the reasons vary, child welfare cases are typically dropped when investigators decide that there is no abuse or, if there is, that parents or another relative can ensure a child's safety, Meisner said.

In April, Texas authorities swept roughly 440 children into foster care from the Yearning For Zion Ranch over abuse allegations. Two months later, the state Supreme Court ordered the agency to return the children. The court said the action was overly broad, given the relatively limited evidence presented by the agency.

The agency has continued to investigate and asked parents to limit the children's contact with men accused of being involved in underage marriages.

The custody cases are separate from the criminal investigation into allegations that men from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which runs the YFZ Ranch, were marrying and having sex with underage girls.

Five men, including the sect's jailed leader Warren Jeffs, have been indicted on charges of sexually abusing a child. A sixth, the sect's doctor, was indicted on suspicion of failing to report child abuse. One of the men indicted on abuse faces an additional charge of bigamy.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah last year as an accomplice to rape and awaits trial in Arizona on charges of being an accomplice to sexual contact with a minor — all stemming from alleged underage marriages within the sect.

The FLDS, which believes polygamy brings glory in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.