Judge tightens reins at FLDS hearing

SAN ANGELO, Texas (CNN) — Children at a polygamist sect under investigation for child abuse are taught that disobeying orders leads to eternal damnation, said a child psychiatrist at a hearing Friday.

Bruce Perry said he has worked with families involved with groups such as the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, as well as some smaller groups, and has had some experience dealing with FLDS members.

Theologically, Mormonism in turn is a cult of Christianity
Theologically, the FLDS is also considered to be a cult of Christianity
Sociologically, the FLDS is a high-demand, high-control, destructive cult. Among other things, it teaches and practices polygamy, breaks up families and marriages, and has engaged in arranged and forced marriages.
In contrast to the Mormon Church, the FLDS practices a more original version of Mormonism. Mormonism’s doctrines constantly change in response to outside pressure and realities.

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He testified on the second day of a hearing aimed at determining who gets custody of more than 400 children removed from the FLDS’ Texas ranch earlier the month. The FLDS, a Mormon offshoot, practices polygamy, and critics claim the group forces girls as young as 13 into marriage and motherhood. Sect members, however, deny that any abuse takes place.

Young children are not mature enough to enter into a sexual relationship or a marriage, Perry testified.

But while he said he considered the FLDS a separatist group, he acknowledged doing little reading on their doctrine and said he has not spoken to its leaders. He said he has met with two members of the group and spoken to them about their beliefs, and has met with young FLDS women to understand their community.

Defense attorneys argued that Perry’s knowledge of the FLDS is not broad enough for him to form opinions.

Questioning was fragmented Friday, as Judge Barbara Walther seemed determined to keep tighter control on the proceedings than on Thursday, when chaos reigned and testimony stretched into the night. Walter said Friday testimony would end by 4 p.m (5 p.m. ET).

Walther must determine whether the state acted properly in removing the children during an April 4 raid at the ranch. The raid stemmed from a series of phone calls in late March from a 16-year-old officials referred to as Sarah, who claimed she had been beaten and forced to become the “spiritual” wife to an adult man. FLDS members have denied the girl, supposedly named Sarah Jessop Barlow, exists.

On Thursday, child protection supervisor Angie Voss testified that she and other investigators encountered several pregnant teenagers at the YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, about 40 miles outside San Angelo. The girls called each other “sister wives,” Voss said, and believed it was acceptable to be “spiritually united” with a man at any age.

“It was the belief that no age was too young to be married,” she said.

The ranch is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy.

Walther must determine whether the state acted properly in removing the children during an April 4 raid at the ranch. The raid stemmed from a series of phone calls in late March from a 16-year-old officials referred to as Sarah, who claimed she had been beaten and forced to become the “spiritual” wife to an adult man. FLDS members have denied the girl, supposedly named Sarah Jessop Barlow, exists.

Voss testified that, during the interviews, the girls would often change their names.

While the men at the ranch said there were no Sarahs there, Voss testified, investigators learned through interviews there were five Sarahs at the compound — and that one of them, like the caller, was 16 and had a baby. The women told investigators they did not know where that woman was, and her name was not Sarah Jessop Barlow. It remains unclear whether the 16-year-old who made the calls has been located by authorities.

Boys were also removed from the ranch, Voss testified, because “I believe that the boys are groomed to be perpetrators.”

Voss said she and other investigators encountered a “scary and intimidating” environment when they interviewed women at the polygamist sect ranch. “I was afraid. I saw men all over,” she said.

She said she saw men in a guard tower looking down on them as they entered the ranch, and men escorted the women to the schoolhouse for the interviews.

Attorneys for the children objected to Voss’ testimony, and Judge Barbara Walther granted a brief recess to see if the attorneys could combine their objections.

The state has the burden of demonstrating to Walther why the removals were necessary.

During cross-examination, the attorneys pressed Voss over whether one of the reasons for removing the children was because of their religion and their following of “the prophet” — jailed FLDS leader Warren Steed Jeffs.

Voss said officials were concerned over the sect promoting “children having children,” but added: “It’s not about religion, it’s about child abuse.”

Because of the sheer size of the case — 416 children represented by 350 volunteer attorneys, as well as lawyers for the parents — the people involved are spread among multiple locations around town, linked by closed-circuit television to the courthouse.

Because of limited space in the courtroom, several FLDS members were moved to an overflow room to listen to the proceedings. The women arrived at the Tom Green County courthouse mostly in groups, wearing their traditional high-collared, pioneer-style dresses.

Critics of the sect say it arranges marriages for girls as young as 13, and that competition for brides may be reduced through exiling young men. But FLDS followers deny any abuse is occurring at the ranch.

Voss said about 130 of the children removed were under the age of 4 and that girls as young as 13 had conceived children at the ranch.

Earlier Thursday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said on CNN’s “American Morning” that “the case really doesn’t hinge upon that particular 16-year-old.”

Polygamy and the Birth of Mormon Fundamentalism
Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, described plural marriage as part of “the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth” and taught that a man needed at least three wives to attain the “fullness of exaltation” in the afterlife. He warned that God had explicitly commanded that “all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same … and if ye abide not that covenenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
John Krakauer, Under The Banner of Heaven, Doubleday (July 15, 2003), pages 5, 6.
However, the god of Mormonism — a religion that, theologically, is a cult of Christianity — constantly changes his mind; reason why the doctrines of the Mormon Church often change (interestingly, whenever doing so is convenient to the Mormon Church).
The Mormon Church’s rejection (sort of…) of polygamy directly led to the formatation of various sects of Mormonism. Though the the LDS/Mormon Church disavows them, collectively these sects are referred to as Mormon Fundamentalists.
As a matter of fact, the doctrines and practices of Mormon Fundamentalists are closer to those of the original Mormon Church than are the doctrines and practices of today’s Mormon Church.

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He said once investigators could “in good faith … go into the compound and determine whether or not there was any kind of wrongdoing, the case is on its own after that.”

“It’s our belief that these children who are under the age of 17 have engaged in sex with older men, which is a violation of Texas law, which is also a potential violation of the bigamy laws,” Abbott told CNN on Thursday. “So yes, we do believe we have information that will be substantiated in court that will show there has been sexual assault as well as bigamy.”

In court on Thursday, Texas state officials presented records they claim show 10 women were either married or pregnant as minors. The list was found during the raid, locked in a safe at a main ranch office building, the officials said.

Some attorneys said they were having to use limited information in representing children, particularly young ones.

Two Houston attorneys representing children removed from the Eldorado ranch visited the compound Thursday.

“It was a very clean place,” said attorney Jason Castaneda, who represents a 5-year-old. He said the houses are built by community members, and an architect and electrician are FLDS members. Members make their own milk and cheese, he said, and the ranch is “almost like a little city.”

Attorney Damiane Banieh, who represents a 2-year-old, said she did not see evidence that the children were in an unhealthy environment. She described the men at the ranch as cordial, despite the circumstances.

FLDS leader Jeffs is serving time in Utah after his 2007 conviction for being an accomplice to rape — charges related to a marriage he performed in 2001. Jeffs also faces trial in Arizona on eight charges of sexual conduct with a minor, incest and conspiracy.

The mainstream Mormon church, which gave up plural marriage more than a century ago, has no ties to Jeffs’ group.

Early Thursday, police in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said they arrested a woman and charged her with making a false report to authorities.

Police said investigators with the Texas Rangers traveled to Colorado Springs “as part of their investigation involving the compound in Texas,” but released no more details regarding the arrest of 33-year-old Rozita Swinton except to say the charge relates to a February incident in Colorado Springs. Documents in the case have been sealed, police said.

CNN’s Ismael Estrada contributed to this report.

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This post was last updated: Friday, December 16, 2016 at 9:42 AM, Central European Time (CET)