The mother of a girl allegedly given in marriage at age 12 to jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs refused to answer questions Monday from attorneys for the state child welfare agency who had begun presenting evidence.
The state wants to remove the girl, now 14, and an 11-year-old brother from the mother’s care, saying she has refused to guarantee the girl won’t have contact with men accused of being involved in underage marriages. The girl’s father allegedly blessed her marriage to Jeffs and the underage marriages of at least two sisters.
The hearing was initially delayed while lawyers in that case and three others tried to negotiate settlements. Later, Texas Ranger Nick Hannah helped Child Protective Services introduce into record dozens of marriage records, photos and church records outlining family relationships that were seized from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado.
The girl’s mother refused to answer roughly 50 questions asked by attorneys for the child welfare agency, including what constituted abuse, the names of her children and her relationship with their father.
“I stand on the Fifth (Amendment),” she said repeatedly in a flat tone.
Her attorney, Gonzalo Rios, said she was exercising her right against self-incrimination because of the continuing investigation.
In documents submitted with the state’s custody petition, the 14-year-old girl is quoted as telling a caseworker that a young teenage girl marrying an older man “can’t be a crime because Heavenly Father is the one that tells Warren when a girl is ready to get married.”
Carolyn Jessop, now a best-selling author, testified about her relationship with the girl’s father, from whom she ran away. She said the man harshly disciplined her son, who was 1 at the time, by alternately spanking him and putting his face under a running faucet until it turned blue. She said the mother refused to take another son to the hospital when he broke his arm.
Under cross-examination, Rios sought to discredit Carolyn Jessop, saying most incidents she described occurred two decades ago. He also criticized her for the amount of money she has earned from her book, “Escape,” about her experience in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community.
Child welfare authorities have been investigating the cases of 440 children since the Texas Supreme Court ordered that the children removed from the YFZ Ranch in April be returned to their parents. The state has asked the court to dismiss cases involving 76 children, including nine who have turned 18 since the custody case began; the remaining cases are still under investigation.
Monday’s hearing was the first Child Protective Services effort since the court ruling to retake custody of FLDS children. The high court said the agency overreached in sweeping all the FLDS children into state custody, noting it showed no more than a handful of teenage girls were abused or were at risk of abuse.
Willie Jessop, an FLDS spokesman, said nothing has happened to justify the children being removed again. None of the children the state wants back in foster care currently live at the ranch.
“They couldn’t find (abuse) the first time it came up. What’s changed?” he said.
Jessop also noted that the church made it clear it wouldn’t sanction underage marriages and that doctrine has been in place for more than two years.
The FLDS believes polygamy brings glory in heaven. It 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.
Jeffs, already convicted as accomplice to rape in Utah and awaiting trial on similar charges in Arizona, was indicted along with four followers in Texas last month on charges of sexual assault of a child. One of the followers was also indicted on a bigamy charge.
A sixth man, Dr. Lloyd Hammon Barlow, was indicted on three misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse. Authorities are seeking custody of his two daughters, saying he didn’t report the babies he delivered to underage girls and that he married a 16-year-old.