Number of underage mothers claimed by Texas continues to dwindle
SAN ANGELO, Texas - Tina Louise Steed had just one question for a judge who declared her an adult Thursday morning.
"I'm wondering how come they wouldn't believe my ID in the first place?" she asked Judge Jay Weatherby.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services acknowledged that Tina Louise and three other "disputed minors" are actually adult women - admissions that came as the Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled it never had sufficient evidence to remove any children from a polygamous sect.
At least three more women were to be declared adults Thursday afternoon or Friday, but those hearings were canceled after word of the decision reached the Tom Green County Courthouse.
And more are on the docket next week.
The admissions by the state left a rapidly diminishing count of women in a disputed age category that is central to its claim of underage mothers found at the YFZ Ranch.
The state alleged that 31 women ages 14 to 17 were pregnant, mothers or both, a count that included 26 mothers whose ages were disputed.
As of noon Thursday, just eight mothers remained in the disputed category.
And an attorney for one 14-year-old said Wednesday her client also is wrongly being listed among the 31 pregnant or mothering teenagers.
The women declared adults on Thursday range in age from 20 to 24; a coming hearing would have shown one remaining disputed minor is 27.
Attorney Kim Bridges, who represents Priscilla Zitting's daughters, told Judge Barbara Walther Thursday she has never been able to get information on why the state deemed the mother a minor or why it had now changed its position about her status.
The state listed Priscilla Zitting as "approximately 16" on one court filing for the status hearing, though it showed her correct 1988 birth year on a chart offered as evidence during a hearing before Walther in April.
Adult status created a problem for the mothers, who are no longer eligible to remain in some shelters and face the prospect of being separated from their children who are older than 12 months.
In at least two instances, judges told CPS in earlier hearings to work something out that would let the mothers and children remain or be placed together in an appropriate facility.
The state also alleged that ranch residents, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, have physically abused and emotionally neglected their children. No evidence of either has been presented in the dozens of individual hearings held so far this week.
Before the appellate ruling, attorneys for the parents and children complained the plans were vague and overly broad, but those arguments fell flat before the five judges hearing the cases.
The hearings were hobbled by mix ups like this one:
David Barlow Steed came to Texas to help support his sister, Lori,whose child is now in state custody. When he arrived at the courthouse, a baliff wrote his name on charging papers identifying him as the father of his sister's child.
Just like that, Steed, who has never lived in Texas or been to the YFZ Ranch, found himself embroiled in the case. Weatherby planned to sign a document releasing Steed from the case Thursday afternoon.