State ordered to help prosecute polygamist sect cases

SAN ANGELO — The judge who last month ordered 463 children from a polygamist sect into state custody said the state attorney general should help with any criminal cases that may arise from an April raid on the sect’s ranch.

State District Judge Barbara Walther’s order, signed Monday, instructs the attorney general’s office to assist in prosecuting any cases that may arise from two search warrants served on the Yearning For Zion Ranch during raids in early April.

The attorney general’s office offered help in working through the massive case, Allison Palmer, first assistant district attorney in the area, told the San Angelo Standard-Times.

“There’s the possibility there for us to have quite a bit to do,” she said. Such rulings are routine in large cases such as this.

The state executed the search warrants on the ranch, run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, after calls to a domestic abuse hot line from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old female ranch resident.

Officials are investigating whether that call was a hoax made by a woman in Colorado.

The order does not indicate what criminal charges authorities could consider, but state child welfare authorities took the children, plus one born to a teenage girl earlier this month, on the suspicion that the children were victims of physical or sexual abuse.

The attorney general’s office will help out in handling “those matters through all phases until final disposition,” Walther’s order states.

“Our office has been in close communication with prosecutors and law enforcement since the beginning,” Jerry Strickland, spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said.

“We will continue that and take a look at what criminal laws, if any, have been violated.”

The children have been dispersed to various foster care homes across the state, while most of the adults remain on the ranch near Eldorado, 45 miles south of San Angelo.

The first of 463 individual child custody hearings begin in Walther’s court on May 19 and are expected to wrap up in early June.

The FLDS sect splintered from the mainstream Mormon Church, which does not recognize the sect. It practices polygamy as a pathway to heaven and was founded by Warren Jeffs, now jailed on charges of being an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to engage in a spiritual “marriage” with a much older man.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday May 6, 2008.
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