Photos show birthing center at sect’s Texas ranch
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Tuesday November 3, 2009
Photos introduced in trial of Raymond Jessop
ELDORADO, Texas — A birthing center on the bottom floor of a log cabin-style building at a polygamist group’s West Texas ranch was set up like a medical office with one distict difference: A portrait of jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs hung over the delivery bed.Harry Smith, of CBS News, spoke with former polygamist Flora Jessop about a Texas polygamous religious sect whose members are on trial for child sex abuse and bigamy.
Jurors in the first criminal trial since Texas authorities raided the Yearning For Zion Ranch were shown 19 photos of the birthing center Monday as Texas Ranger Bart Bivens identified the items in the images.
The photos were introduced into evidence by prosecutors in the case against 38-year-old Raymond Jessop, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of sexual assault of a child. The charge stems from his alleged marriage to an underage girl who gave birth in August 2005.
Defense attorney Mark Stevens said there was no credible evidence that the girl, now 21, was assaulted or gave birth at the ranch, which is run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Bivens conceded under cross-examination that he did not know whether the birthing center was built before the alleged victim gave birth.
FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said in an interview later that the building was not constructed until sometime after 2005, though he did not know the exact date. Willie Jessop is a distant relative of the defendant, and their last name is common in the FLDS community.
Tempers flare over evidence in FLDS trial
ELDORADO — Tempers flared and objections flew Monday evening while lead attorneys clashed over whether jurors could see a photograph album, a marriage certificate and other evidence in the child sexual assault trial of a polygamist sect member.
Lead defense attorney Mark Stevens worried out loud what jurors might think of him after his objections resulted in the jury filing out of the courtroom for a second time in less than an hour.
Stevens said [lead prosecutor Eric] Nichols wasn’t following agreed upon procedures to handle the introduction of evidence to the jury.
Nichols said he was simply building his case, establishing links in a chain to prove, for instance, the location prosecutors contend a sexual assault occurred that resulted in Jessop fathering a child with a 16-year-old girl.
[Judicial District Judge Barbara] Walther allowed jurors to see a Washington County, Utah, marriage certificate for the union of Jessop and Mary J. Musser from Aug. 29, 1994. Prosecutors contend that Musser is Jessop’s legal wife and that he took eight “celestial” wives, including an underage bride who gave birth to his daughter.
Defense attorneys have a keen interest in keeping talk of polygamy out of the trial, as well as evidence to prove the location of the sexual assault their client is accused of.
Under Texas law the age of consent to sex is 17 — unless the underage person is legally married.
Walther sustained Stevens’ objections to a photo album seized at the YFZ Ranch during a historic April 2008 raid.
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