CPS is taking custody of sect leader’s child bride
SAN ANGELO — The child bride of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was ordered into foster care Tuesday by a judge who said the girl’s mother had shown herself unwilling to ensure her protection from further abuse.
State District Judge Barbara Walther said “uncontroverted evidence” existed that the girl had married Jeffs when she was 12 in a wedding her father performed and her mother also witnessed.
“Allowing the child to remain (in her mother’s custody) would be contrary to the interests of the girl,” Walther said as the girl’s mother, Barbara Jessop, stared grimly ahead. The family was to hand over the girl, who would be placed into foster care late Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Texas Child Protective Services said.
Walther denied the state’s request to place the girl’s 11-year-old brother in foster care but ordered that neither sibling have contact with their father, Frederick “Merril” Jessop, a leader with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Willie Jessop, an FLDS spokesman, called the judge’s ruling “a desperate attempt by the court and the judge to save face.”
CPS this week sought custody of the girl, now 14, and six other children, from a West Texas polygamist group.
The parents are all members of the FLDS, a breakaway Mormon sect whose ranch outside Eldorado was raided in early April when authorities obtained evidence of underage marriage. The church is not affiliated with mainstream Mormonism.
Attorneys for CPS on Tuesday settled with the mothers of five of the children in an arrangement that gives the state legal custody of the kids while allowing them to remain at home with their mothers, stringent conditions provided.
The girl’s case was the first effort by Child Protective Services to retake custody of a child who lived at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado before the April raid that resulted in 440 children being placed in foster care for six weeks. The Texas Supreme Court later struck down that custody decision, saying the state had failed to show that any more than a handful of teenage girls might have been abused.