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Plural wife in court for her kids • Thursday June 26, 2003

The Salt Lake Tribune, June 26, 2003
Stephen Hunt

A 35-year-old plural wife who fled with her eight children from the polygamy stronghold of Colorado City, Ariz., was in 3rd District Court this week to work out visitation issues with the children’s 67-year-old father.

The court case began with a domestic abuse petition filed by Carolyn Jessop, who alleged that Merril Jessop tried to prevent her from leaving him, then stalked her after she fled to Salt Lake County.

Merril Jessop’s attorney, Rodney Parker, said Wednesday that he disputed the factual basis for the protective order. He said that an investigator with the Guardian ad Litem’s office found no basis for the mother’s claim that the father should be supervised during visits with the children.

Despite the overtones of polygamy, Parker said the Jessops were treated in court “like any other parents.”

Carolyn Jessop was granted full custody of the children — ages 1 through 15 — and Merril Jessop was granted standard visitation rights. Child support issues remain unresolved.

Attorney Douglas White, who works for anti-polygamy group Tapestry of Polygamy, said the woman was 18 when she became the fourth of Merril Jessop’s seven wives.

White said Merril Jessop is the father of 54 children and grandfather to 160, and has close ties to the leadership of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is based in the border towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah.

Carolyn Jessop became disillusioned with polygamy because of changes implemented by FLDS President Warren Jeffs, including restrictions on travel and using teenage boys to assess the worthiness of families, White told The Tribune.

She also was unhappy that Merril Jessop had orchestrated the marriage of a 17-year-old daughter to a 43-year-old man, White said.

She fled early one morning in April when Jessop was away, White said. She is staying with a former church member who provides a haven for plural wives who want to escape polygamy.

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