Former FLDS bishop goes on trial over Warren Jeffs wedding to minor

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a former bishop of a polygamist sect who is accused of officiating at the marriage of an underage girl to the sect’s leader, Warren Jeffs.

The Star-Telegram writes

Fredrick Merril Jessop, 75, is charged with one felony count of performing an illegal wedding ceremony. The third-degree felony carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The indictment accuses Jessop of presiding in 2006 at the wedding of Jeffs and the girl at the Yearning for Zion Ranch, owned by the Jeffs-led Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in Schleicher County in West Texas. […]

Prosecutors said one of Jessop’s daughters was married to Jeffs at age 12 at the ranch. After authorities raided the ranch in April 2008 and temporarily removed all the children, the girl was the only one to remain in foster care after courts ordered the children returned to their parents.

Jessop was a longtime bishop and senior church leader believed to be second in line for the presidency after Jeffs. He was in charge of daily operations at the YFZ Ranch until January, when he was reportedly excommunicated.


The Salt Lake Tribune notes that

Among the possible witnesses in the trial is one of Jessop’s wives, Carolyn, who fled the FLDS community on the Arizona-Utah line with her children in 2003 and wrote a best-selling book, “Escape.” A Texas judge ordered Jessop to pay his former wife $148,000 for seven years of back child support last year.

Jessop was the leader at the ranch when authorities executed a massive raid there in 2008, responding to a call to a domestic violence hotline from a person claiming to be an abused underage wife. More than 400 children were temporarily removed from the ranch and placed in state protective custody.

Although the call was later found to be a hoax, prosecutors have used family and church records seized in the raid to bring charges against 12 sect members, all men, including Jessop and Jeffs.

Another of those men, 45-year-old Leroy Johnson Steed, pleaded no contest to sexual assault and bigamy charges Tuesday morning, the San Angelo Standard-Times reported. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was accused of marrying a 14-year-old girl in 2004 as one of at least eight wives, according to Texas court documents.

Steed was also one of two people arrested during the raid on the YFZ Ranch, accused of trying to take a trash bag full of papers, including an electronic data storage device, off the ranch. Prosecutors dropped a tampering with evidence charge in exchange for Steed’s plea.

Last August Warren Jeffs was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two of his child brides.

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This post was last updated: Nov. 22, 2013