Polygamous religious cult tries to suppress evidence in criminal cases
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Friday April 17, 2009
FLDS motion challenges Texas’ reasons for raiding polygamous ranch
Texas Rangers knowingly used sketchy information to secure the search warrant used to enter a polygamous sect’s ranch last spring, new court documents state.
A motion filed Wednesday on behalf of 10 men facing criminal charges related to last year’s investigation at the Yearning For Zion Ranch says that in a Texas Ranger’s affidavit seeking the search warrant, he omitted the fact that the name of the man being sought was provided by a worker at a domestic violence shelter who had found the man’s name through an Internet search.
It also says officers knew Dale Evans Barlow, the man named as a suspect, was not at the ranch before the raid began on April 3, 2008, and had been told there was no “Sarah Barlow” who met their description there.
The men, indicted by a grand jury on charges related to underage marriages, are asking 51st District Judge Barbara Walther to bar use of evidence seized during the investigation in their upcoming criminal trials. Walther has set a hearing on the motion for May 13.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is handling the prosecutions, issued a statement Wednesday that called the FLDS motion “baseless and without merit.”
“The state of Texas will vigorously oppose these attempts to exclude evidence about the multiple defendants who have been indicted for sexually abusing children, among other offenses,” the statement said.
The abuse reports were made by a caller who contacted the New Bridge Family Shelter in San Angelo last March and claimed to be a pregnant 16-year-old living at the ranch.
The caller is now believed to have been Rozita Swinton of Colorado Springs, Colo.
After being told no “Sarah Barlow” existed, officers asked to interview all females between the ages of 7 and 17 and were granted access to the ranch. That showed their intent not to “seek evidence of a special crime” but to “check evidence of any crime against the children present,” the motion states.
After three days of searching, there was still no sign of “Sarah Barlow,” the motion states.
Sect files massive motions to suppress evidence in criminal cases
Attorneys for indicted members of the FLDS dropped a 7,000-page bombshell Wednesday on the 51st District Court, alleging that Texas Rangers misled Judge Barbara Walther into issuing a pair of search warrants that authorized last year’s raid on the polygamous sect’s Schleicher County compound.
In identical 61-page motions to suppress evidence filed for each of 19 charges against 10 defendants – with 300-plus more pages of evidence and attachments – the attorneys accuse Texas Ranger Lt. Brooks Long of failing to provide Walther key details that would have undermined the credibility of the initial phone calls that led to the raid.
“In short,” the attorneys write, “it is clear that the authorities used a hoax phone call as an excuse for staging a massively intrusive raid upon a disfavored religious group. Under the guise of looking for a man they knew was not there and a child that did not exist, the Texas authorities conducted a general search to see what they could find.”
Wednesday was the court-imposed deadline to file the motions in advance of a scheduled May 13 hearing in Eldorado.
The motion repeats many of the arguments initially stated in similar documents filed this year in Arizona, where attorneys for sect leader Warren Jeffs have asked a Mohave County judge to throw out any evidence obtained from the Texas raid.
The judge, Stephen Conn, has said he would wait until Walther ruled on the evidence before he took up the issue.
In the motion filed Wednesday, the attorneys also claim the warrant was overbroad by authorizing a search of the entire 1,700-acre ranch, which contained 19 separate dormitories, and that it violated the sect’s First Amendment rights by targeting its members’ religious beliefs.
“The wholesale search of an entire village,” the motion states, “is by far the most sweeping and expansive invasion of our citizens’ right to privacy since our founding fathers attempted to do away with King George’s ‘writs of assistance’ more than 200 years ago.”
The state ultimately removed 439 children from the ranch but has since returned all but one to their parents. Twelve FLDS members have been indicted on charges ranging from felony bigamy and sexual abuse of a child to misdemeanor failure to report abuse.
The motion covers 10 of the 12 defendants, excepting sect leader Warren Jeffs, who is facing similar charges in Arizona, and ranch doctor Lloyd Barlow, who faces only misdemeanor counts.
• Texas vs. FLDS: 1 year after the raid
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