Frederick Merril Jessop Archive

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Ex-FLDS bishop gets maximum sentence for marrying 12-year old to cult leader

The former bishop of a polygamy-sanctioning sect received the maximum sentence of 10 years and a $10,000 fine late Tuesday afternoon for conducting a marriage ceremony between a 12-year-old girl and the then-50-year-old sect leader, Warren Jeffs.

Matthew Waller reports in the San Angelo Standard-Times

Coke County jurors took just under an hour to deliberate on the sentence of Fredrick Merril Jessop, 75 and the former bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, having found him guilty of the third-degree felony on Monday.

“What do we do with a man who has put out in harm’s way so many people, who worked as some twisted Pez dispenser popping off daughters for the prophet?” lead Prosecutor Angela Goodwin said in her closing arguments.

The jury heard testimony and saw documents that alleged Jessop had 22 wives, married off 11 daughters and two granddaughters to Jeffs, a man now in prison for sexual assault, and participated in 16 underage marriages.

Another witness in the punishment phase included Carolyn Jessop, testifying against her ex-husband.

“I was his fourth wife,” Carolyn Jessop said.

She married Jessop when she was 18 years old and he was 50.

Carolyn Jessop said the morning after their first night together, Jessop joked: “A dog is better than a new wife, because a dog is loyal.”

Fredrick Merril Jessop would discipline — or “break,” as Carolyn Jessop quoted him as saying — his 11-month-old baby by spanking it until it cried and then hold its head face up under a flowing faucet.

She left the sect in 2003 with her eight children, including one with severe mental and physical disabilities, because she was afraid her daughter would be forced into marriage because she was almost 14 years old.

Jessop had told his fourth wife she was spiritually to blame for her son’s disabilities, she said. […]

Carolyn Jessop has written a best-selling book about leaving the FLDS.

ABC News notes that

Jeffs, the former leader of a radical polygamist sect of Mormonism known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), is serving a life sentence for sexual assault, after being convicted of forcing two teenage girls into “spiritual marriage” — one being the 12-year-old Jessop married him to — and fathering a child with the other when she was 15.

According to the Star-Telegram

Much of the evidence shown to jurors was the same that prosecutors used to convict Jeffs in August of sexually assaulting the 12-year-old girl and another 15-year-old child bride. Jeffs is serving a life sentence.

Jeffs excommunicated Jessop sometime after the wedding ceremony.

The FLDS holds polygamy as a fundamental belief, and its men take multiple wives in what are termed “celestial marriages” in a ceremony called a sealing.

Jessop’s attorney, Rae Leifeste, told jurors that because there was no marriage license for the “sealing,” it was different from a wedding ceremony that can be prosecuted. But lead prosecutor Angela Goodwin told the jury that “Texas law is as clear as a bell” about what a marriage ceremony is.

Research resources on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

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.