11/06/09 – NYT: Polygamist Sect Leader (Raymond Jessop) Convicted of Sexual Assault ***COMMENTS***

New York Times
November 6, 2009

Polygamist Sect Leader Convicted of Sexual Assault

ELDORADO, Tex. — One of the leaders of a polygamist sect was convicted Thursday night of sexually assaulting an under-age girl whom the church elders had assigned to him as one of his nine wives.

A jury of seven men and five women deliberated 2 hours 20 minutes before returning a verdict of guilty in the first trial of a dozen members of the Yearning for Zion Ranch just outside this rural hamlet in West Texas.

The defendant, Raymond M. Jessop, 38, seemed unperturbed as Judge Barbara Walther of State District Court read the verdict. Mr. Jessop was immediately handcuffed and taken into custody by the Schleicher County sheriff. He smiled and nodded to several other men in his religious group, who sat grave-faced as he was led away.

Mr. Jessop will be sentenced after a second hearing before the jury on Monday. He faces penalties ranging from 2 years’ probation to 20 years in prison.

His lawyer, Mark Stevens, declined to say if he would appeal, though the defense had argued in hearings before trial that the state illegally seized the church documents that were crucial to the case during a raid on the ranch in April 2008.

Mr. Jessop is one of the most prominent members of a breakaway sect that has at least four other communities in Arizona and Utah. He is close to Warren S. Jeffs, the self-styled prophet and leader of the sect.

Mr. Jeffs has been convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape, a charge related to his role in ordering the “spiritual marriage” of an under-age girl to one of his followers. He is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges and has been charged in Texas with sexual assault and bigamy.

The trial of Mr. Jessop offered a rare glimpse of the inner workings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a group that split from the Mormon Church. Followers believe polygamy brings heavenly rewards and treat Mr. Jeffs as a modern-day prophet.

The ranch first came to national attention a year and a half ago when the Texas authorities descended on it, seeking a girl who had complained in a telephone call to a San Angelo women’s shelter that she was being sexually abused. The girl was never found, and the Texas Rangers acknowledge that the tip was a hoax.

But in the course of executing search warrants, social workers and the Rangers uncovered evidence that at least a dozen girls had been coerced by church elders to serve as wives to older men. Seven had borne children.

The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Eric Nichols, put several Rangers on the stand along with a former member of the church to introduce several church documents seized from a vault on the ranch.

Since the woman said to be the victim, who is now 21, did not testify, Mr. Nichols used the documents, along with her photo album, to prove she lived with Mr. Jessop as one of his wives and was impregnated by him when she was 16.

The state’s case also rested heavily on genetic evidence that showed there was a 99.9 percent chance Mr. Jessop was the father of the child, who is now 4.

In his closing argument, Mr. Nichols attacked the theory that the teenager had consented to be Mr. Jessop’s wife. “Any act of sexual assault is a horrendous crime,” he said, “but an act of sexual assault on a child is of such an extreme nature we don’t even consider whether the victim was able, much less did, consent.”

One of the most damning pieces of evidence presented in court was a written record of Mr. Jeffs’s instructions in August 2005 not to take the girl to a hospital even though she had been struggling in labor for three days at a clinic on the ranch.

“I knew 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,” Mr. Jeffs was quoted as saying.

Some of the most revealing testimony came from another witness for the prosecution, Rebecca Musser, a former member of the church who had been married to Rulon T. Jeffs, the sect’s founder and the father of Warren Jeffs. She left the church in 2002 after the elder Mr. Jeffs died.

Ms. Musser testified that Mr. Jeffs had controlled every aspect of the women’s lives, including how they dressed and what they ate. He also controlled whom they married and when.

“Age was not a factor,” she said. “It was when the prophet deemed she was worthy.”

Mr. Stevens mounted a technical defense, arguing that the state could not prove the crime had taken place in Texas since the evidence it had was purely circumstantial. He did not present any witnesses.

“It’s dangerous when we start trying to convict people based on documents and we are not sure where those documents came from,” he said.

In: Cult News

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2 Posts

  1. Justice Says:

    Didn’t Tony Alamo defend Jeffs and his polygamist child abusing FLDS sect on his radio program. I believe he even threatened over the airwaves that Nancy Grace and the investigators involved in the case would have their first born killed if they prosecuted the sect for their crimes against children.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Another one bites the dust…

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