FLDS: Sexual assault sentence is expected today for polygamist

Published November 9, 2009 10:24 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Schleicher County jury is expected to decide on a punishment for polygamous sect member Raymond Merril Jessop today after hearing closing arguments from attorneys.

Testimony from six state and four defense witnesses stretched until nearly 8 p.m. Monday before both sides rested and 51st District Judge Barbara Walther called a halt to the hearing.

The jury found Jessop, 38, guilty of sexual assault of a child last Thursday after eight days of testimony from state witnesses. On Monday, jurors heard much more about polygamy as the state built a case for a tough penalty.

Jurors have two options in sentencing Jessop: prison or probation. The maximum sentence for the offense is 20 years.

The defense filed a motion trying to bar the state's use of evidence about Jessop's other marriages, some wives' previous marriages to his brother, and his religious rank at the Yearning For Zion Ranch, but Walther shut the effort down.

Jessop is a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members occupy the ranch. The state filed charges against him and 11 other FLDS men, including leader Warren S. Jeffs, following an investigation at the ranch in April 2008.

Jessop was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in November 2004. He is currently being held in the Schleicher County Jail. He appeared in court Monday dressed as he has throughout the proceedings: in dark slacks and a white dress shirt. He looked tired and nodded off briefly during the morning.

The defense called four witnesses -- all from the surrounding community -- to testify about Jessop's character. Each of the local residents said they got to know Jessop earlier this year during home building projects. They described Jessop as honest, truthful and "extremely nice."

"I would, without a doubt, trust Raymond with my family, my wife, my kids," said Clint Reichenau of Wall. "In my opinion, he is not someone who would be violent around my family."

Jacqueline and Louis James of Christoval also had a sect-owned construction company build a home for them this summer and Jessop was part of the crew.

Louis James said that Jessop sometimes brought along several sons, who would carry two-by-fours for him and hand Jessop tools as he worked. On some hot days, Jessop would join "the kiddos" in swimming and fishing in a water hole on the James' property.

"Raymond gave me the impression he wasn't a father. He was a dad," Louis James said.

Cody Engedahl of Eldorado told the jury he trusted Jessop "more than I do some of the people in this community."

But most of the day was spent hearing from state witnesses who painted a very different portrait of Jessop and the FLDS' practices.

Several jurors appeared shocked at new evidence the state pulled out Monday in its quest for a stiff sentence, particularly a photo montage that showed Jessop kissing a different 15-year-old -- one of Jeffs' daughters -- he spiritually married in 2006.

Two former sect members -- Carolyn Jessop and Rebecca Musser -- testified Monday about plural marriage.

At age 18, Carolyn Jessop became the fourth wife of Frederick Merril Jessop, Raymond Jessop's father. Carolyn Jessop said that her former husband had 54 children, of whom 15 were full siblings to Raymond Jessop.

Carolyn Jessop said she was taught that polygamy was a "saving principle of God" and that "God's way was not man's way." She named Jessop's nine wives, shown clad in the sect's trademark long, pastel dresses in a photograph projected on the screen for jurors.

Musser told jurors that when she married former FLDS prophet Rulon T. Jeffs, she was his 19th wife. She said the elder Jeffs had 64 wives at the time of his death in 2002 -- many of whom were shown with the former prophet in a photograph projected for the jury.

One by one, prosecutor Eric Nichols had Musser verify marriage and family group records for Jessop and many of his plural wives. She also explained how Jessop would have received three of his brother's wives, including his victim.

"If a man is deemed unworthy by the prophet he can tell that man he no longer holds priesthood and be sent away," she said. "The wives and children will be reassigned . . . and become part of that household and no longer recognize their biological father."

The victim, now 21, was 15 when she was married first to Jessop's brother and then to Jessop. She was 16 when she conceived and gave birth to Jessop's child.

Musser said that many of Jessop's wives were Jeffs' daughters -- prestigious alliances given to the most worthy, obedient men.

Utah psychologist Larry Beall, who specializes in trauma, told jurors that over his 21-year career he had counseled 20 former FLDS members, five of whom were women. Beall said he also interviewed another six women from the sect and spent eight hours reading documents, particularly the sect leader's dictations, seized from the ranch.

He said the doctrine of celestial or plural marriage as a key to salvation is so internalized in FLDS girls that it "permeates the whole fabric of her being" and conditions them to accept arranged marriages to much older men.

"I have determined that there has to be a denial of reality in order to enter this world of an arranged marriage," said Beall, adding that the young women are likely to see their mates as both father and husband figures.

"The odds are against her coping well," he said, particularly given dynamics of a household in which she may be the same age as other wives' children.

A minor who is sexually assaulted becomes "fractured" and her ability to think and feel emotionally is impaired, Beall said. Often, girls become "stuck at that stage of development," he said.

Beall said he had billed Texas $44,000 so far for his assistance with the prosecutions of Jessop and the other men.

In response to questions from defense attorney Brandon T. Hudson, Beall said he avoided reading others research on polygamous communities because "I didn't want my perspective to be affected," and didn't balance his work with interviews from people still in the sect because it would be "tainted data. I wasn't interested in it."

Beall also said he was unaware that until 2005 it was legal for a 14-year-old to marry with parental permission in Texas. The age was raised to 16 in September 2005.

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
comments powered by Disqus