Followers of the FLDS polygamist sect consider Warren Jeffs to be a prophet of God. To authorities in Texas, he is an inmate serving a life sentence for having sex with underage girls. But there are now serious questions about whether Jeffs is still leading the group from behind bars and whether his followers remain devoted. Gary Tuchman investigates and goes inside a mansion some followers built for Jeffs and his wives.
A federal judge in Utah struck down part of the state's law banning polygamy. The family featured on the reality show "Sister Wives" filed the case, arguing that Utah's ban on cohabitation violated their rights to privacy and religious freedom. Utah was home to Warren Jeffs, who leads the FLDS, another polygamist sect. He was convicted of having sex with underage girls and is now serving a life sentence. Rebecca Musser was a witness in the case against Jeffs and talks to Anderson about what today's decision means.
The Sheriff of Mohave County, Arizona vows to help members who want to leave Warren Jeffs' polygamist sect known as the FLDS. Sheriff Tom Sheahan says their department is "helping those that want to get out of that community."
The Sheriff tells Anderson the 'city police department' is nothing but an 'extension of a security service for the church.' He explains, "when people want to leave that church and get away from that type of living, they try to stop them, they hide them out, and they conspire with the elders in that church to keep this from happening." FULL POST
Ruby Jessop recently escaped from a breakaway Mormon sect known as the FLDS. The group openly practices polygamy, and are controlled and ruled by their imprisoned prophet, Warren Jeffs.
Jessop was forced to marry a cousin when she was fourteen years old. She was able to escape along with her six children. Gary Tuchman tells her story.
Editor's note: CNN's Gary Tuchman reports on how imprisoned polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs' followers are faring without him.
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: Watch Gary Tuchman's exclusive interview with the family tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/14/betty.jessop.flds.jpg caption="Betty Jessop at the FLDS compound."]
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/14/carolyn.and.betty.jessop.jpg caption="Carolyn Jessop at 22, feeding daughter Betty."]
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/14/carolyn.jessop.book.jpg caption="Carolyn Jessop's book on her experience." width=292 height=320]
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.
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.
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As we drove past the huge white gates at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, Texas, we weren’t sure what to expect. The last time we were here was in June of last year when the state of Texas raided the FLDS property and took 462 children and placed them in state custody. Allegations of child brides, sex with minors, and abuse put a spotlight on the FLDS and what was going on inside this ranch. We were allowed in to speak with mothers who were pleading for their children to be returned. It was our first look inside this secretive religion which practices polygamy.
Today we were invited again. We were given a guided tour by one of the church leaders Willie Jessop. He says life here on the ranch is much different that what many people believe. He allowed us to meet and speak with mothers and children who say they were taken from the ranch last year before being returned.
At first, the ranch seemed desolate and the same as it was the last time we visited. As we took our tour we saw more work had been done in fields of crops they say were ruined during the raid. As time passed we began to see women and children outside their homes working and playing in front of their homes.
We came across children who were picking carrots and doing other work around the ranch. All say they are more than thrilled to have been returned to their families and the life they know. Some say that being away from their home and their life as they knew it only strengthened their faith.
Outside the ranch in the Schleicher County courthouse, 10 FLDS men were present today for pretrial motions on their cases involving sexual assault of a minor and other various charges related to underage marriage and bigamy. Their trial dates are scheduled for the fall.