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.
CNN National Desk
Grand Jury recesses in Eldorado, will reconvene in July, no indictments yet.
A Texas grand jury recessed last night after hearing allegations of sexual abuse in the polygamist FLDS sect.
The grand jury is considering criminal charges arising from the raid on the sect's Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch in April. FLDS members have denied abuse allegations.
The grand jury reviewed evidence for eight hours, and recessed without issuing indictments. It won't resume until late next month.
The state of Texas removed over 450 children from the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado that an underage girl was being forced to marry and have sex. The children were placed in foster homes around the state.
But the Texas Supreme Court later ruled the evidence of abuse was insufficient, and children must be returned to their parents while the investigation continues.
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.”
So how does the state give the kids back?
This morning Judge Barbara Walther asked for all the players to join in court today. A 2pm "conference" to decide how the court will abide by the Texas Supreme Court's decision to essentially give the FLDS kids back to their families.
The court was packed this afternoon as attorneys, FLDS mothers, and media filled the seats. All waiting to hear how this would all be resolved.
The state drafted up some language on how to return the children, with guidelines. Some of those proposals:
Members of a polygamist sect whose children were removed by Texas authorities could flee the state if a lower court ruling stands, according to lawyers for the state.
If sect members were to flee, they also would leave the courts' jurisdiction, attorneys for the state Child Protection Services said in court filings Tuesday to the Texas Supreme Court.
The case involves 38 mothers from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy, and their 124 children.
In a ruling last week, the Texas 3rd District Court of Appeals said the state had no right to remove those children in April from the Yearning For Zion ranch near Eldorado, Texas. Although that ruling applied only to those 124 children, attorneys said the reasoning could apply to all the youths removed during the raid - about 460. (Up to 20 of those later were found in court to be adults.)
CNN Sr. Legal Analyst
The Third District Court of Appeals, in Austin, today ruled that the children seized last month at the FLDS ranch must be returned to their mothers. The decision made a lot of sense to me. The nine-page opinion is very much worth reading here.
To me, the key passage in the opinion is this one:
"Removing children from their homes and parents on an emergency basis before fully litigating the issue of whether the parents should continue to have custody of the children is an extreme measure. It is, unfortunately, sometimes necessary for the protection of the children involved. However, it is a step that the legislature has provided may be taken only when the circumstances indicate a danger to the physical health and welfare of the children and the need for protection of the children is so urgent that immediate removal of the children from the home is necessary."
The question is whether the Texas authorities put forth enough evidence to justify the 'extreme' step of taking the children away from their mothers. The court focused a great deal on the claim by Texas that the 'pervasive belief system' of the FLDS put the children in danger that males were raised to be perpetrators of sexual abuse and females were trained to be victims.
David M. Reisner
360° Digital Producer
This is just crossing the wires:
An Appeals court has ruled that the state of Texas should not have removed the more than 400 children it took from a polygamist sect's ranch
In its ruling, the Texas 3rd District Court of Appeals decided in favor of 38 women who had appealed the removals, as well as a decision last month by a district judge that the children will remain in state custody.
The ruling stated:
"The legislature has required that there be evidence to support a finding that there is a danger to the physical health or safety of the children in question and that the need for protection is urgent and warrants immediate removal,"
"Evidence that children raised in this particular environment may someday have their physical health and safety threatened is not evidence that the danger is imminent enough to warrant invoking the extreme easure of immediate removal prior to full litigation of the issue."
The children were removed last month from the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch, owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy.
From our Ed Lavandera:
"This ruling out of Austin goes on to say the family and protective services division (the agency in charge of removing the children from the compound) did not prove the children were in danger and they needed to be removed from their homes."
"You can imagine what the reaction is going to be in the coming ours from those involved with the sect and those who live in the compound... "
"State officials are also saying they still need more time to investigate and they are still in that process. "
Watch 360° for in-depth coverage and share your thoughts here:
Editor's Note: The following is a dispatch from CNN's Senior producer Tracy Sabo inside the FLDS courtroom hearings.
Note: The next case was going to be postponed to take place at the same time as all the other 11 children in state custody… but the guardian for this child had dialed in by phone/”Court call” at the personal cost of $55, and the Judge could not guarantee reimbursement… so they proceeded in hearing this one case of the 10.)
Father: Marion Steed
Child: Angela, age 11
Editor's Note: The following is a dispatch from CNN's Senior producer Tracy Sabo inside the FLDS courtroom hearings
Courtroom B, Case #1
Mother: Louanna Jessop
Father: Leroy J. Jessop (not present)
Note: This mother/father have 7 children.