Jeffs photos used in court to justify raid

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Team Coverage An FLDS couple went to court against the state of Texas to win release of their baby boy. But the state fought back with startling photos of Warren Jeffs to back up its claim that all children were in danger at the YFZ polygamist ranch.

The battle over all the children wound up at the Texas Supreme Court today. Child Protective Services appealed yesterday's ruling that it didn't have enough evidence to justify a mass seizure of more than 460 children from the ranch in April. No decision on that, and no mass release of children has occurred.

Jeffs photos used in court to justify raid

But a smaller case in San Angelo threw light on the secret marriage ritual of the group.

The appeals court yesterday said the state has not presented much evidence that the children on the ranch were at risk of sexual abuse. But today the state tried to prove just that, in a hearing that was required if the state is going to maintain custody of a baby born just last week.

Dan and Louisa Jessop have two other children. The children were taken by the state last month along with Louisa because authorities thought the pregnant young woman was a minor. Now they acknowledge she was 22 years old when she gave birth to her third child last week.

On the witness stand today, Louisa was very evasive and not at all forthcoming about life on the YFZ ranch. She said she didn't know or didn't remember the most basic details of her own living arrangement and the relationships of various people. She did say FLDS church leader Warren Jeffs, her prophet, is perfect in her eyes.

Jeffs photos used in court to justify raid

Then the state introduced numerous photos of Jeffs, photos of him with what appear to be very young girls, in poses that suggest they are his brides. Jeffs towers over the girls and appears to be 30 to 40 years older than they are. One set of photos has a date indicating it was taken just a month before his arrest, when he was still on the FBI's 10 most wanted list.

The state believes that proves a pattern of pervasive sexual abuse through underage marriage. Dan Jessop acknowledges that one of the girls in the photos is his own sister. He says he doesn't know if she's married to Jeffs, and he doesn't know how old she is, although he didn't dispute a report that she is 13.

Jeffs photos used in court to justify raid

"You see far worse, immoral, disgusting, gross things than a girl kissing a man, in the street of your own community. And you and I don't know if the state of Texas fabricated that," Dan Jessop said.

Again, he did not deny that his sister is married to Warren Jeffs and did not deny that she's 13. But now he's saying he's not sure if those photos were fabricated.

The judge did not make a ruling in the case involving Dan Jessop's baby. That court hearing will be put off until next week.

In Austin, Texas child welfare authorities today appealed a ruling that found they had no right to seize more than 440 children from a polygamist sect's ranch, saying they are doing what they think is best for the children.

Yet this afternoon, state child welfare authorities reunited 12 children with their parents until the state Supreme Court rules on their custody case.

Jeffs photos used in court to justify raid

Yesterday's ruling said all 460-plus children taken in the raid early last month should be released. But there is still plenty of legal uncertainty surrounding that order.

It came from an appeals court. It apparently is in effect now, which means the children should be released. But the state has asked for a stay in that matter from the state Supreme Court.

Further, legal aid lawyers may go to court seeking an emergency release order.

A state spokeswoman had little to say to reporters earlier today.

Marleigh Meisner said, "I'd be happy to talk to you later today. I will have more information, hopefully within the next hour."

When asked if she thinks CPS made a mistake, Meisner answered, "I think we're doing this in the best interest of the children."

FLDS spokesman Rod Parker said, "I think that what's appropriate now is to get these children back to their parents as soon as possible. And that every day that they're in state custody is another bad day and another day that more harm is inflicted on the children. You have to remember that ultimately this is about the well-being of the children, and they are better off in their parents' hands."

Meanwhile, in San Antonio, a judge there ordered 12 children released to their parents. That's a separate legal proceeding. It's a habeas corpus petition with three sets of parents. The judge agreed to allow the children to go back with those parents while court cases continue.

It's still hard to say when the bulk of the children will be returned to their parents.

Also, the state of Texas says criminal charges could still be filed in this case.

If there's evidence of any crime among members of the FLDS church, the district attorney in San Angelo says she'll prosecute. She tells the Deseret News that includes bigamy.

Even though many of the FLDS arrangements are so-called "spiritual marriages," prosecutors think they can go after them. In Texas, there isn't a need for a second marriage license. It's considered bigamy if a man and woman live together and appear to be married.


(The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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