Judge orders redaction of polygamist documents

Judge orders redaction of polygamist documents

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ELDORADO, Texas (AP) -- A Texas judge ordered Tuesday that a document showing a member of a polygamist sect had at least four wives who were pregnant or nursing at the same time should be excluded from his trial on charges of child sexual abuse.

In a hearing without the jury in the trial of 38-year-old Raymond Jessop, District Judge Barbara Walther ordered that several documents demonstrating his multiple marriages be redacted to show jurors only information about the alleged victim.

Jessop later will face a separate trial on bigamy charges, and his attorney Mark Stevens sought to prevent any mention of polygamy in this case. Jessop is charged with sexual assault of a child -- a teenage girl he allegedly married and fathered a child with -- and could face up to 20 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.

Walther said a list taken from a records vault at the Yearning For Zion Ranch should be redacted to remove the names of other families and three other alleged wives who were pregnant or nursing shortly after the alleged victim gave birth to a girl in August 2005.

The judge also ordered prosecutors to hold back any dictations of Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect, to include only information about Jessop and the alleged victim before offering them into evidence.

Jeffs, convicted previously as an accomplice to rape in Utah, is regarded as a prophet by the sect, and he recorded rambling daily dictations covering a range of religious teachings and orders regarding the YFZ Ranch.

The judge did not immediately rule on several documents that could demonstrate Jessop's polygamist marriages, including photos of two wives in prairie dresses alongside him and church marriage certificates for the alleged victim and another woman on the same day. Prosecutors have argued that the evidence of multiple marriages was being used to prove an element of the alleged crime, which requires them to show the defendant was not legally married to the alleged victim.

Authorities allege the girl, now 21, was married to Jessop at age 15 and gave birth at 16. Church records that defense attorneys are fighting to keep out of the trial indicate the girl had previously been married to Jessop's brother before being reassigned to Jessop, who authorities allege has nine wives.

Forensic expert Amy Smuts had testified Monday that the probability of Jessop being the father of the alleged victim's daughter was 99.999998 percent.

Jessop's trial is the first since Texas authorities raided the YFZ Ranch in April 2008, sweeping 439 children into foster care. The children have all been returned to parents or other relatives, but thousands of pages of documents and DNA tests taken in the raid have been used to build criminal cases against Jessop and 11 other sect men, including Jeffs who is seeking to have his Utah conviction overturned in an appeal before that state's Supreme Court.

In afternoon testimony in Jessop's case, Texas Ranger Sgt. Jesse Valdez told jurors that authorities made numerous attempts to access a vault with 2-foot-thick cement walls and a bank vault-style steel door before busting a hole in the cement large enough to allow Valdez to crawl through.

"I made myself as skinny as I could and I went through with a flashlight and a handgun, not knowing what was in there," said Valdez.

At the time, authorities were still searching for someone who called a domestic abuse hot line claiming to be an abused underage girl -- a hoax caller whose reports triggered the massive raid. But once in the vault, authorities found only rows of cabinets and stacks of file boxes with family photos and documents and church records.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has historically been based around the Arizona-Utah line but it purchased a ranch in Eldorado about six years ago, building numerous sprawling log homes and a towering limestone temple. The sect is a breakaway faction of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago and does not recognize the sect.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Michelle Roberts Writer


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