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State seeks custody of sect leader's alleged bride

Texas authorities are seeking permanent custody of an 14-year-old girl who was allegedly married to jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, a step toward severing her parents' rights altogether.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Texas authorities are seeking permanent custody of a 14-year-old girl who was allegedly married to jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, a step toward severing her parents' rights altogether.

The girl had been placed temporarily in foster care in August after her mother refused in court to guarantee her safety. She is the only one of 439 children taken from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado to return to foster care.

Documents and photos seized from the ranch showed the 14-year-old married at age 12 to Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Her father allegedly performed the ceremony. Fredrick "Merril" Jessop was indicted in November on a charge of conducting a ceremony prohibited by law on July 27, 2006 — the day his daughter was allegedly married to Jeffs. He has not yet entered a plea.

Her mother, Barbara Jessop, underwent a court-ordered psychological evaluation and counseling. When the counselor asked about her daughter's marriage, Jessop said she "was not going to admit something that was not true and (the girl) had always been with her," according to a report filed by Texas Child Protective Services.

In seeking permanent custody, CPS said in the Dec. 22 filing, that "Barbara Jessop has not demonstrated progress toward alleviating or mitigating the causes for the child's removal from the home."

FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said the accusations that Barbara Jessop is an unfit mother are "absolutely ludicrous." A message left for Barbara Jessop's attorney was not returned.

A status hearing on the teen's custody case is scheduled Thursday, but a decision on whether the girl will remain in permanent state custody or return to her mother won't be made until after a trial scheduled for March.

'Spiritually married' to adult men
Last month, CPS released a report saying it believes a dozen girls, ages 12 to 15, were abused because they were "spiritually married" to adult men; another 262 were listed as neglected because the agency said their parents knew there was sexual abuse in the household but did not move to protect them. FLDS officials have called the abuse and neglect reports "manufactured."

All the other children taken from the ranch during an April raid have remained with their parents since Texas District Judge Barbara Walther ordered their return in June. All but a handful of their cases have been dropped.

Jeffs was convicted in 2007 as an accomplice to rape in Utah and awaits trial in Arizona and Texas on other charges related to alleged underage marriages. He is one of a dozen FLDS men who have been indicted in Texas on charges including sexual assault of a child and bigamy.

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