A Texas appeals court has upheld the conviction of a member of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who entered into a spiritual marriage with a 15-year-old girl in 2004 at the sect’s Yearning For Zion Ranch.
Raymond Merrill Jessop, 40, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and an $8,000 fine for a second-degree felony of sexual assault of a child in November 2009. His notice of appeal was filed February 2010, and an appeal brief was filed February 2011. Oral arguments were heard in October.
The court wrote in its 64-page opinion that there had been sufficient evidence for the conviction, that testimony of certain expert witnesses was allowable, and that the indictments didn’t need to be quashed or evidence suppressed, all points raised in the appeal.
The paper highlight several of Jessop’s claims along with the court’s opinions.
One of the claims made in Jessop’s appeal was that two former FLDS members and a psychologist who works with members and former members of polygamous sects — gave prejudicial testimony that was not directly relevant to the case against him.
“The complained-of testimony of Musser, Carolyn Jessop and Dr. Beall provided evidence of the illegal activities of FLDS,” the appellate court wrote. “From their testimony, the jury learned that the doctrine and practices of FLDS promote underage and plural marriages that result in the sexual assault of children and the commission of bigamy. Musser and Carolyn Jessop testified about the underage marriages, polygamous practices, reassignment of wives and sexual activity with underage children practiced by the sect. Dr. Beall provided information of the harmful impact of underage marriages, polygamous marriages, and sexual assault on children, demonstrating the injurious nature of the organization’s activities.
“We conclude that appellant’s membership in an organization that promotes and practices polygamy and underage marriages that result in the sexual assault of children is relevant to the question of appellant’s character for purposes of punishment.”
Eleven other FLDS men have been convicted on the basis of evidence found in an April 2008 raid on the ranch by law enforcement who were investigating allegations of sexual assault occurring there. FLDS members have been found guilty of child sexual assault, bigamy and performing illegal marriage ceremonies. The sect leader, Warren Jeffs, has been imprisoned for life plus 20 years for two counts of child sexual assault as the result of a conviction in August.