Witness: FLDS men lead all aspects of sect life

Witness: FLDS men lead all aspects of sect life

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ELDORADO, Texas (AP) -- Women in a polygamist sect were taught that their fathers or husbands and the sect's prophet had the right to direct every aspect of their lives, a former member testified Wednesday in the child sexual abuse trial of a current sect member.

"As a woman you have no direct connection to God," said Rebecca Musser, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. "Every area of our lives was directed by the church and their teachings."

Musser left the church in 2002 and never lived at the Yearning For Zion Ranch, the site of a state raid in April 2008 that led to the trial of 38-year-old Raymond Jessop, who is accused of marrying an underage girl. Prosecutors asked Musser to talk about her experience in the FLDS and how church records are kept.

Jessop is the first man from the sect to face trial since the raid. The girl he is accused of marrying when she was 15 had been "reassigned" to Jessop from his brother, according to records seized by authorities. If convicted, Jessop faces 20 years in prison.

The prosecution is relying heavily on records and dictations by jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs that were seized from the ranch. In one dictation, Jeffs indicates that he advised people at the ranch to avoid taking the girl to the hospital even though she had been in labor for days.

"I knew that the girl being 16 years old, if she went to the hospital, they could put Raymond Jessop in jeopardy of prosecution as the government is looking for any reason to come against us there," Jeffs wrote.

Prosecutors sought to establish with Musser that the records were kept as a normal part of church business in an effort to make them admissible in the trial.

Musser, who was once married to Jeffs' elderly father and later testified against Jeffs at his trial in Utah, said Jeffs kept detailed accounts of his interactions with FLDS members because he believed God would hold him accountable.

"He would keep a little notebook in his pocket and was constantly jotting down notes," she said. "That, in essence, would be something he'd be responsible for to God."

Other records outlining family trees, marriages and baptisms also were carefully kept before authorities seized them from concrete-lined vaults at the ranch, she said. The FLDS believes the records would be kept in heaven, Musser said.

Jeffs, who is revered as a prophet by FLDS members, was convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape. He is jailed in Arizona awaiting trial on charges related to underage marriages there and faces sexual assault and bigamy charges in Texas.

In all, 12 men from the sect have been indicted on charges ranging from failure to report child abuse to sexual assault. The 439 children taken from the ranch and placed in foster care after the raid have all been returned to their parents or other relatives, but the seized documents resulted in the criminal charges.

The FLDS is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago and does not recognize the FLDS. Historically based around the Arizona-Utah state line, the FLDS bought a ranch about six years ago in Eldorado, about 150 miles northwest of San Antonio, and began building massive homes and a towering temple.

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

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