Daughter of Sect Leader Gets Additional Protection

SAN ANGELO, Tex. — A 16-year-old girl who, her lawyers said, was sexually abused in a West Texas polygamist group led by her father, Warren S. Jeffs, was given added legal protections on Tuesday by a district court judge who barred any contact between her and Mr. Jeffs.

The ruling came as more children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continued to go home to their parents from state foster care.

The order’s language puts the focus of the investigation of the group more squarely onto Mr. Jeffs, who led the sect as a hailed prophet of God and is now serving a sentence of 10 years to life after his conviction in Utah last year of forcing an under-age girl in his sect to marry against her will.

Last week, investigators from the Texas attorney general’s office carried out a search warrant to obtain DNA from Mr. Jeffs in Arizona, where he is being held while awaiting trial on other charges related to under-age marriage.

The warrant said investigators had evidence that Mr. Jeffs had married four young girls in Texas and Utah, two of whom were 12 years old.

The new court order, filed here in Tom Green County, does not accuse Mr. Jeffs of abusing his daughter, who was released to her mother on Tuesday afternoon. But the order, signed by Judge Barbara Walther, who is overseeing the sect case, bars the girl from having “any contact, in any form,” with Mr. Jeffs and another man, Raymond Jessop.

The girl’s lawyer, Natalie E. Malonis, and another lawyer, Tim Edwards, who represents the girl’s mother, both declined to say anything about who Mr. Jessop is or his relationship to the girl, or how he might be reached for comment.

Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the state attorney general, declined to comment on Tuesday’s protective order or whether it was connected to the criminal investigation.

Willie Jessop, a spokesman for the F.L.D.S. group, said that to his knowledge there was no credible evidence that accusations of sexual abuse relating to the child in the court order were true. He said the girl’s lawyer was pursuing “an agenda,” and that the girl’s mother had tried to find other counsel.

“What we have in this situation is a very disappointing attorney who is pushing a different agenda than what her client wants,” Mr. Jessop said. He said he did not know exactly what the relationship was between Raymond Jessop and the girl, and he said his information about the accusations had come from the girl’s mother.

The children of the polygamist group, which split off decades ago from the main branch of Mormonism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were ordered released to their parents on Monday by Judge Walther after two court decisions last month that rebuked child protection officials for acting beyond the evidence they had at the time.

The twist involving Mr. Jeffs comes as leaders of the sect are working hard to distance themselves from child marriage.

On Monday night, at a news conference at the group’s compound, the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, Willie Jessop read a statement that he said was meant to clarify the sect’s position.

“In the future, the church commits that it will not preside over the marriage of any woman under the age of legal consent in the jurisdiction in which the marriage takes place,” Mr. Jessop said. “The church will counsel families that they neither request nor consent to any under-age marriages. This policy will apply churchwide.”

Asked by reporters if Mr. Jeffs had been involved in the announcement or its message, Mr. Jessop said he did not know.

In another development on Tuesday, DNA test results from nearly 600 sect members — 462 of them from children — began arriving at Judge Walther’s court here. The tests were ordered in an attempt to determine parental linkages, and specifically to see if girls under age 16 had been married in violation of Texas law.

Texas authorities seized more than 460 children from the group’s compound, acting in response to a call to an abuse hot line from someone who said she was 16 and being abused at Yearning for Zion. That 16-year-old has not been found, and Ms. Malonis said on Tuesday that the girl she represents did not make that call.

A spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services, Patrick Crimmins, said the agency could not comment on what the DNA reports showed or how the results might figure into the continuing civil and criminal cases.

But the real dramas of the day were much more intimate, taking place all across Texas as the reunions with children and parents continued.

“I only got to visit her once a week, for one hour,” said Sandra Jeffs, 26, talking about her 15-month-old baby, Annette Nielsen, and their separation of several months, in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “When I went to pick her up, when they were giving them back to us, she had forgotten me.”

Ms. Jeffs, whose relationship to Warren Jeffs could not be determined, said that in the hours since mother and daughter were reunited, healing had already begun.

“Now she remembers; now she doesn’t want to leave me,” Ms. Jeffs said. “If I have to go to the bathroom she cries because she doesn’t want me to leave.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday June 4, 2008.
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