Despite his imprisonment, Jeffs continues to rule over his followers. Gary Tuchman reports on his frightening influence.
It was a cold, crisp Texas morning when Gary Tuchman, photojournalist Mike Love and I showed up to the Tom Green County Courthouse today just after dawn. We wanted to make sure we got there early in hopes of getting Warren Jeffs to talk with us as he was scheduled to arrive in court.
The self proclaimed prophet and polygamist sect leader was transferred here last week after being extradited from Utah.
The leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) was indicted on bigamy and sexual assault charges stemming from an alleged spiritual marriage to a 12-year-old girl.
Prosecutors filed the charges 2 years ago after authorities raided the sect's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas and removed more than 400 children on suspicion that they were exposed to sexual abuse.
Most of the children were returned to the ranch with their families, but many of the men living on the ranch were charged with sexual abuse.
About 45 minutes after we arrived, an SUV pulled up to the courthouse and Warren Jeffs was taken out of the backseat. He was wearing glasses, orange jail pants and a grey sweatshirt.
Sheriff's deputies escorted Jeffs who was handcuffed and had has ankles shackled. Gary asked him if he still felt that he was the prophet as he was entering the building. Jeffs' ignored the questions, but at the Yearning for Zion ranch, we heard from one FLDS member who says Jeffs is certainly the prophet.
Editor's Note: Today a former member of a polygamist group has taken the stand in the sexual assault trial of the first group member tried since Texas authorities raided the group's ranch last year.
The former member testified that jailed leader Warren Jeffs kept detailed notes on his interactions with church members because he believed God would hold him accountable. Jeffs' notes could become part of the prosecution's case against 38-year-old Raymond Jessop. He is charged with sexual assault of a child, stemming from his alleged marriage to an underage girl. We have been following this case ever since authorities arrested Jessop. Below, read a blog from one of our producers about meeting Carolyn Jessop - Raymond Jessop's fourth wife. She recounts her experiences in a book about her life on the FLDS ranch. Watch David Mattingly's report on the Jessop trial tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
It was the moment Carolyn Jessop had been waiting for. The mother of eight and the fourth wife of a powerful FLDS man wanted out of the only life she knew. It was a rare moment. All of Jessop’s eight children were home and her husband was not. She only had a few hours to gather her kids and leave the polygamist life where she was born and raised. She says she was desperately seeking a new life on the outside. She wanted to escape.
Carolyn Jessop broke free from a life of arranged marriage, polygamy and a male dominated and controlled society. She says she wanted more for her and her children. Jessop began a new life with her children outside the FLDS. Her kids attended public school and no longer practiced the religion with which they were raised.
Just over a year after the government raid on the FLDS ranch in West Texas, lawmakers in Austin look at what went wrong. Members from the FLDS sect and representatives with CPS are among the invited testimony on the state's actions.
"Are there things we would have done differently today? Of course," said CPS commissioner Anne Heilingenstein. "I wish we would have had the information we have today." Heilingenstein told the Human Services committee that CPS faced a dilemma on the YFZ ranch that they had never faced before. "If we could have only removed the children facing the worst abuse, we would have," she said. "But, we were facing organized deception."
However, Heilingenstein said if the situation were to happen again, she would still have the agency remove all the children. The only difference she would make is prohibit any mothers from accompanying the children into state custody. However, she said after parenting classes and counseling sessions with the families, she believes the children are now safe with their parents. "The FLDS have acknowledged our concerns and the children are now safe in their homes." Heilingenstein said CPS has instructed the children on what is abuse and the FLDS children know they can call for help.
Editor's Note: Watch Gary Tuchman's exclusive interview with the family tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
It was the moment Carolyn Jessop had been waiting for. The mother of 8 and 4th wife of a powerful FLDS man wanted out of the only life she knew. It was a rare moment. All of Jessop’s 8 children were home and her husband was not. She only had a few hours to gather her kids and leave the polygamist life where she was born and raised. She says she was desperately seeking a new life on the outside. She wanted to escape.
Warren Jeff's fundamentalist polygamist sect has never been so vulnerable.
A grand jury in Texas has indicted three FLDS members on charges related to accusations of sexual abuse of children through marriage of underage girls to older men.
This follows the indictment of five others last month, including Warren Jeffs himself on new charges, Jeffs is already in prison after being convicted as an accomplice to rape for arranging an underage marriage.
There is no reason to doubt that more members of this church are being investigated.
One might think all this is giving some members second thoughts. But in this church, where the hierarchy is as rigid and strict as old Stalinist regimes, no member in good standing would ever tell an outsider that.
On the contrary, one member I called tells me this "strengthens his faith." It's an attack against their religion, he says.
Justice may be getting served. But it's also increasing a martyr complex among members of this church. And you have to wonder what effect that might have on the men, women and children of this church.
CNN National Desk
Two weekends ago, I saw the pictorial in the Sunday New York Times Magazine on the FLDS families living in San Antonio that were profiled, and thought to myself, what comes next in the investigation stemming from the April raid on the polygamy ranch in Eldorado?
And today we learned that the Texas Department of Child Protective Services is seeking foster care for eight children who returned to living with their families on the ranch back in June.
CPS is asking a judge to put the children into foster care because they say “their mothers have refused to limit the children’s contact with men involved in underage marriages.”
CPS is asking the mothers of all girls aged 10-17 to sign safety plans to protect their children from sexual abuse.
Mothers of the eight children who CPS is seeking foster care for have refused to sign the safety plan.
According to CPS, among other things, the safety plan requires that mothers keep children away from a man who “married underage girls or agreed to an arranged marriage on an underage daughter.”
CPS is asking hearings to be set for removal of the eight children.
No word yet on whether the court will grant the hearings.
Co-author, with Carolyn Jessop, 'ESCAPE'
Carolyn Jessop, bestselling author of ESCAPE, her memoir about life in the polygamist world of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, had just heard the names of the five men under arrest in Texas.
She knows the men who surrendered on Monday. Four face up to 99 years in prison on charges of sexually assaulting a child. Two of them were her stepsons, Ray Jessop, and Leroy Jessop. "It's heart-wrenching, but justice needs to be served if they have truly injured young girls as charged," she told me.
The fifth man, Dr. Lloyd Hammon Barlow, is charged with failure to report three counts of child abuse. He is a physician, with a Texas medical license in family practice, and a member of the FLDS.
Assignment Editor, CNN National Desk
The gates outside the Yearning For Zion ranch in Eldorado, Texas, are usually locked. But they were open late Tuesday, as families returned to the sprawling ranch with children being returned from foster homes around the state.
“We just traveled day and night. Texas is a beautiful state, I had no idea I would see that much of it,” Zavenda Young said, holding her youngest daughter while her husband Edson Jessop embraced their sons.
“We are sure grateful to be home,” she added. “We’ve traveled 11,000 miles covering visits to the children, visits with attorneys, and all.”
Young told reporters the family had been temporarily living in the Houston area as they shuttled in between their four children and their caseworkers.
“The people that have been taking care of the children were doing such a wonderful job. They literally cried when we took them away,” Young said of the foster parents who cared for the children after they were removed from the ranch by state officials in April, citing evidence of underage marriages and statutory rape.
Young said the children had been hit hard by the removal to foster homes around the state. "They are dazed," she said. "They are not the same. We hope they pull out of it.”
Some reporters asked returning children how it felt to be back with their parents on the ranch. Clearly still shaken by the experience, children clung to their parents and shied away from the cameras.
Jessop said the raid had created misconceptions of the FLDS members of the polygamist ranch:
“We feel that everybody has been fed a whole bunch of garbage about us. I think when most people come to know us they come to learn that we are different than they suppose, but it’s really hard to change the spots on a leopard-we are what we are. I am the same kind of man that my father and grandfather was. I don’t know why the world wants to change me.”
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