Grand jury adjourns without action in FLDS criminal case
A West Texas grand jury spent a full day Wednesday weighing evidence about alleged sexual abuse inside a polygamist sect but adjourned without filing criminal charges after hearing from only a few of the witnesses subpoenaed by the state.
The Schleicher County grand jury was ordered to reconvene on July 22 to continue hearing the state’s case against members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said Rod Parker, an attorney for the breakaway Mormon sect.
Attorneys for the Texas Attorney General’s Office refused to comment on the proceedings, since grand jury hearings are secret. The state alleges that the group forces underage girls into spiritual marriages and sex with older men.
About a dozen women in pioneer dresses, the uniform of female FLDS members, were seen throughout the day outside the heavily guarded courthouse. The women were apparently heeding subpoenas to testify, though Parker said he’s not sure if any did.
He said state prosecutors failed to provide written assurances that witnesses engaged in polygamist unions would not be tried later on bigamy charges, either here or in places outside their jurisdiction, like Utah or Arizona, where the FLDS has its stronghold.
“I think the whole thing fell apart because (state prosecutors) failed to offer the necessary immunity,” Parker said. “There are Fifth Amendment issues here.”
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said it might take months for the state to lay out its case. Investigators were still in the process of sorting through the hundreds of boxes of evidence collected during its weeklong raid of the sect’s ranch in April as well as results collected from DNA tests, he said.
“We expect this will be a long process,” Doran said.
– Source: Lisa Sandberg, Grand jury adjourns without action in FLDS criminal case, Houston Chronicle, June 26, 2008
FLDS hearing before grand jury a ‘slow grind’
Seven FLDS women made brief appearances Wednesday before a Texas grand jury that ended the day without issuing any indictments.
The women went one-by-one before the jury in the afternoon and spent about the same amount of time – roughly 40 minutes – inside the Schleicher County Courthouse, which was cordoned off by crime scene tape and heavily guarded by state troopers throughout the proceedings.
Alan Futrell, a San Antonio criminal attorney representing Jeffs, afterward called the process a “slow grind” and “emotional” but said “everybody appears to be doing their job with a minimum of contentiousness.”
Futrell said no one was held in contempt during the proceedings but said he did not know whether the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is handling the criminal investigation, had offered the women immunity for testifying. Such offers, which would be needed from both the state and federal government since both are pursuing investigations of the FLDS, are typically offered to encourage witnesses to testify without fear of prosecution.
That may be an issue for the women if the prosecution is considering charges based on polygamy, bigamy or failure to protect.
A witness who has not been offered full immunity may assert their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. But if a witness has been offered immunity and still refuses to testify, prosecutors may seek a contempt-of-court charge.
The criminal probe is running parallel to a child welfare investigation into treatment of children by sect members, who were living at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado. The ranch is home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The state proceeding comes nearly three months after Texas Child Protective Services and law enforcement raided the ranch to investigate a call for help now considered a hoax.
But state authorities removed about 440 children from the ranch after observing what they characterized as a “pervasive pattern” of sexual abuse of young girls. The state returned the children to their parents after two higher courts found 51st District Judge Barbara Walther lacked sufficient evidence to keep them in custody.
Many of the girls identified by the state initially as abused minors were later found to be adult women, but Texas authorities continue to investigate sexual abuse of other girls married to older men.
Authorities gathered thousands of pages of documents in their sweep of the ranch that may be used to show underage marriages. They also collected about 600 DNA samples from ranch residents to link children to parents.
An Arizona investigator also has gathered Utah birth certificates for use by Texas officials, according to Jeff Duncan, director of the Utah Office of Vital Statistics.
But the women’s testimony is expected to be key – if they give it.
– Source: Brooke Adams, FLDS hearing before grand jury a ‘slow grind’, Salt Lake Tribune, June 26, 2008
FLDS, pro-polygamy group meet
The Fundamentalist LDS Church is beginning a dialogue with members of Utah’s leading pro-polygamy group.
In return, members of the group Principle Voices have traveled to Texas to offer support for the families involved in the massive custody battle over the children of the FLDS Church’s YFZ Ranch.
Members of Principle Voices have been invited onto the YFZ Ranch to meet with FLDS members.
After pushing for months, the FLDS Church has finally begun a dialogue with Principle Voices. They met with FLDS member Willie Jessop and attorney Rod Parker recently in West Jordan.
The FLDS have not definitively said if they would join a coalition of polygamous groups that Principle Voices has formed.
Principle Voices has been a leading advocate for polygamous groups and an active participant in the Utah Attorney General’s Safety Net Committee, a collection of social service workers, government agencies, activists and polygamists working together to provide help to abuse victims in closed societies.
– Source: Ben Winslow, FLDS, pro-polygamy group meet, Deseret News, June 26, 2008
• Within polygamous sects of the Mormon Church, polygamy is also known as “The Principle.” It refers to the belief that a man must have at least three wives to secure a place in paradise.
• It is interesting to note that, as a newspaper owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church), the Deseret News never refers to the FLDS by its proper name: Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but rather uses the term “FLDS Church.”
Theologically, the FLDS is a sect of Mormonism. Both movements are, theologically, cults of Christianity due to the fact that their teachings and practices contradict, change, and/or otherwise violate essential doctrines of the Christian faith.
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