May 30th, 2008
06:20 PM ET

Is the FLDS voting for payback?

Ismael Estrada and David Mattingly
AC360° Producer and Correspondent

ELDORADO, Texas - Schleicher County, Texas is the kind of small community where everyone knows your name. This tiny town has two traffic lights and gas stations, a few restaurants, a small, local weekly paper and now - possibly hundreds of new voters.

A few years ago, when the FLDS polygamist sect set up camp on their new 1,700-acre property, they told local officials they wanted nothing to do with local government. They say they just wanted to stay to themselves in their secluded YFZ ranch, where they were building massive homes and a temple as more FLDS members moved in.

But their promise to stay out of local government has changed since Texas authorities raided their property on April 3. FULL POST

Filed under: David Mattingly • FLDS update • Polygamy
May 30th, 2008
12:13 PM ET

Payback time in Eldorado

David Mattingly
360 Correspondent

It looks like payback time in Eldorado. Members of the secluded, polygamist sect felt vindicated yesterday when the Texas Supreme Court agreed state authorities did not have the right to take all 400-plus children into custody. But the FLDS families don't plan to go home quietly. Come November...they plan to vote.

I spoke at length with sect spokesman Willie Jessop about plans to register five to six hundred FLDS voters. Schleicher County has fewer than 19 hundred registered voters and no candidate is safe.

Sheriff David Doran, one of the leaders of the April raid at the YFZ ranch was the leading county vote-getter four years ago with just 903 votes. He's in for the re-election campaign of his life.

The County Commissioner from the precinct where you find the FLDS compound should also be worried. He ran unopposed four years ago and got into office with just 154 votes. Just a couple hundred write-in votes could conceivably land a sect member a seat on the county commission.

Filed under: David Mattingly • FLDS update • Polygamy
May 28th, 2008
12:00 PM ET

Texas warns families in polygamy case could flee

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/CRIME/05/28/polygamist.exodus/art.flds.reunion.woai.jpg caption="A family waits at a San Antonio, Texas, courthouse last week for a reunion with a seized child"]

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.)

Read full story...

Filed under: FLDS court hearing • FLDS update • Polygamy
May 28th, 2008
11:46 AM ET

Court evidence shows Warren Jeffs Kissing Young Girls

You can view court evidence here.
You can view court evidence here.
David Mattingly
360° Correspondent

There's only one way to describe these pictures of Jeffs. They are disturbing. I'm sure that's the reaction the attorneys for Texas child protective services was going for when they showed them to the court. The state later successfully retained custody of one of two babies born to FLDS mothers while in foster care.

According to testimony, one of the girls seen kissing Jeffs was the baby's aunt, lived in the same home with the parents and was only 13. The state provided no context for the photos–we don't know why they were taken or where authorities found them. But, it's clear, these pictures had an impact on this hearing and proved to be an effective weapon for the state when they try to prove the existence of a pervasive pattern of abuse at the Yearning for Zion Ranch.

Melanie Whitley
CNN National Desk

The pictures are of Warren Jeffs and 2 minors...

These pictures were entered into evidence on Friday for the Jessops custody hearing but also released to the media...

Here is what we know about one of the girls in the photos

  • Lived on the YFZ Ranch in the same building with the Jessops
  • Is a minor
  • Was supposed to testify in the Jessop's custody case, or called as a witness, but the two parties reached an agreement before that happened

Filed under: David Mattingly • FLDS update
May 22nd, 2008
06:05 PM ET

Waves of Horror: Former FLDS member reacts

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/23/book.292.320.jessop.jpg caption="Carolyn Jessop is a former FLDS Member and Co-Author of Escape" width=292 height=320]

Carolyn Jessop
Former FLDS Member

I was shocked when I heard the news of the Texas Appellate Court ruling this afternoon.
Waves of horror washed over me at first as I thought that the children might have to be immediately returned. But that's not going to happen. This ruling will be appealed. It's not a knockout punch, but the FLDS obviously gained some ground today.

If those children go back to the complete, unsupervised control of the FLDS at the Yearning for Zion Ranch it would be like throwing gasoline on a fire that's already burning out of control. It would send a message that the FLDS can get away with any level of crime which would reinforce what society, through its inaction over the years, has reinforced for a very long time. The pattern in the FLDS is, from my experience, that once its leaders can get away with one level of crime they move on to the next.

I know from my conversations with those close to this case that Texas authorities feel they have found a system of abuse within the Eldorado compound. Remember the dozens of babies that were left unattended in a nursery? Or the news this week that 100 kids didn't match up with any parents in the compound? There will be more information about the physical and sexual abuse of these children when criminal charges are filed. A lot of evidence was taken out in the raid that investigators are still piecing together.


Filed under: Carolyn Jessop • FLDS update • Polygamy
May 22nd, 2008
04:11 PM ET

FLDS court ruling: Bad thoughts aren't enough

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/22/art.polygamymothers2.jpg caption="Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints mothers smile as they leave the Tom Green County courthouse after hearing news of a court ruling in their favor. " width=292 height=320]

Jeffrey Toobin
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.


Filed under: FLDS court hearing • FLDS update • Polygamy
May 22nd, 2008
02:00 PM ET

Court ruling: State had no right to take children from Polygamy compound

You can read the court's ruling on the legality of removing of 400+ children from a polygamist compound here.
You can read the court's ruling on the legality of removing of 400+ children from a polygamist compound here.

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:

Filed under: FLDS court hearing • FLDS update • Polygamy
May 21st, 2008
05:20 PM ET

Dispatch from FLDS hearing: 11-year-old girl wants to "return home"

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/21/art.polygamycourt3.jpg width=292 height=320]
Editor's Note: The following is a dispatch from CNN's Senior producer Tracy Sabo inside the FLDS courtroom hearings.

Courtroom B, Case #2

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.)

Mother: Rebecca
Father: Marion Steed

Child: Angela, age 11


  • Some confusion over the case plan which was filed here for the wrong Angela (one from the earlier hearing), but that was eventually sorted out by the Court.
  • The father was first shown with the service plan as he walked into the courtroom, so he needed an extra 15 minutes to look it over. He filed an objection as to its “generality” but said that he would sign it and work the plan.
  • Mother atty filed objections to the plan arguing that the summary at the beginning of the document included incorrect ages for all the children and was full of errors and therefore she was arguing that the 14-day hearing was unlawful). The argument was overruled by the court, but attached to the case file.
  • The couple says they are legally married to each other and lived on the ranch in a single family dwelling with all their children.
  • DNA testing was done for both parents and children.
  • The caseworker spoke with mother Rebecca about the plan and about visitation plans thus far.

Filed under: Barclay Palmer • FLDS court hearing • FLDS update • Polygamy
May 21st, 2008
03:55 PM ET

Dispatch from FLDS hearing: ”The children are all fine, medically...”

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/21/art.polygamycourt2.jpg]
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.

  1. Angela, age 2
  2. Virginia, age 4
  3. Harmony, age 10
  4. Zane, age 5
  5. Shem, age 1
  6. Leanna, age 7
  7. Miranda, age 8


  • Caseworker has not had any contact with father, Leroy J. Steed, and has not been able to locate him thru calling the ranch, etc. Will continue trying to reach him thru the attorney name/number (court-appointed?) provided today by the mother (she does not know where he is, per her atty).
  • Louanna has done DNA testing. None done on the father, as far as anyone in court is aware.
  • Mother has signed the plan and added some comments and a home schooling curriculum as well as a complaint that it lacked specificity.
  • When the caseworker was asked by the mother’s attorney, Charles Grimm, “Did you have anything to do with creating this plan?” Martinez answered, “I did not have anything to do with this plan. It was already created.” Martinez went on to say, “It was tailor-made for the FLDS parents.” He clarified by saying it was a fairly standard CPS plan “is very close to what we use all the time… This is a starting point… We will individualize it.”

Filed under: FLDS court hearing • FLDS update • Polygamy
May 20th, 2008
05:37 PM ET

Dispatch from FLDS hearing: Underage mothers and Warren Jeffs’ children

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/19/art.fldscourt.jpg]
From a pool reporter inside the courtroom
Update from Courtroom A

Case #1
1 year old boy
Mother: 17 ½ years old

Attorneys asked for a continuance because the mother, who is a minor, has not been able to meet with her attorneys because she is 8 months pregnant and located in a shelter in San Antonio. The judge granted the continuance and the hearing will now be held 6/3. Attorneys expressed concern that they are not able to have private conversations, that social workers are taking notes on phone conversations.


Case #2
9 ½ year old child

Father: Warren Steed Jeffs (incarcerated)

Highlights: The attorney asked which version of the Book of Mormon the children were given (new version of Book of Mormon condems polygamy). CPS worker Irene Schwaninger "Polygamy is not the issue, underage marriage is the issue here." Mother has signed CPS plan.

Filed under: Barclay Palmer • FLDS court hearing • FLDS update • Polygamy
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