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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Warren Jeffs is charged with child sex assault

ELDORADO, Texas (AP) -- Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was indicted in Texas on a count of child sexual assault, a first-degree felony. Five members of the sect also face charges.

Attorney General Greg Abbott says four of Jeffs' followers are charged with one count of sexually assaulting girls under the age of 17.

One of the four faces an additional charge of bigamy.

Abbott says a fifth follower is charged with three counts of failure to report child abuse.

The charges follow an ill-fated child custody case in which more than 400 children were placed in foster care. The Texas Supreme Court ruled child welfare authorities overstepped in taking all the children from their parents even though many were infants and toddlers.

Abbott earlier Tuesday went into a small community building where a grand jury was meeting in the West Texas town of Eldorado.

Women and girls in prairie dresses, including a 16-year-old daughter of Jeffs, were escorted into the same building, while lawyers and members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints crowded a bench in front of the courthouse.

The grand jury met for one day in June without issuing indictments in the case.

Weeks later, the Texas Supreme Court directed the judge overseeing the case to return the children to their parents, saying the state had overstepped its authority because it didn't show that any more than a handful of teenage girls may have been abused.

FLDS leaders have consistently denied that there was any abuse at the ranch and vowed not to sanction underage marriages.

Grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret, but documents released as part of the separate child custody case involving the FLDS children have revealed some of the evidence collected by law enforcement during the weeklong raid of the ranch.

Among the hundreds of boxes of photos, documents and family Bibles, investigators found photos of Jeffs kissing and intimately embracing several apparently teenage girls.

A journal entry purportedly from Jeffs attached to a report by a child advocate indicates that he married his daughter to a 34-year-old man the day after she turned 15. The girl turns 17 on Saturday and has denied being married, though the child advocate report indicates that intimate notes between the girl and man were also found in the raid.

The girl, who playfully climbed a giant oak tree while waiting to be called to testify last month, left the community building frowning as she talked to her lawyer. The Associated Press is not identifying her because authorities believe she may be a sexual abuse victim.

Under Texas law, a girl younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult. Bigamy is also illegal in Texas, although FLDS members in plural marriages did not get Texas marriage licenses.

In addition to discussions of the girl's marriage, the Jeffs journal entry indicates that he blessed marriages of two other underage sect members.

The FLDS, which believes that polygamy brings glory in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, which officially renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
Jeffs, who is revered as a prophet, is jailed in Arizona awaiting charges related to the marriages of young girls. He was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for his role in the marriage of a 14-year-old last year.

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