Ex-FLDS bishop gets prison amid talk of more illegal marriages
Polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs collected a total of two dozen underage wives, according to Texas prosecutors. But he didn't do it alone.
In all of those cases, authorities said, at least one of the child's parents witnessed the wedding. On Tuesday, a Texas jury deliberated for just under an hour before handing down a 10-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine to the only parent charged with enabling any of those marriages: 75-year-old Fredrick Merril Jessop, who served as bishop over the sect's Texas ranch.
The San Angelo Standard-Times reported Jessop was convicted Monday of presiding over the marriage of his 12-year-old daughter to Jeffs, who has been convicted of sexually assaulting her.
During sentencing, prosecutors fired off a long list of other so-called bad acts, showing evidence that 11 of Jessop's daughters and two of his granddaughters had been married to Jeffs at least three of them at ages younger than 15, according to the Standard-Times andTexascourt documents.
Prosecutor Angela Goodwin compared Jessop to a "some twisted Pez dispenser popping off daughters for the prophet," during her closing arguments Tuesday, according to the newspaper.
Prosecutors outlined a web of 16 underage marriages Jessop witnessed. Some were marriages to Jeffs, but others were marriages to different FLDS men, including four that later resulted in sexual assault and bigamy charges. Two of Jessop's sons have also been convicted of sexually assaulting underage wives.
Jessop himself also had two underage girls, both 16 years old, among his 22 wives, according to Texas court documents obtained by TheSalt Lake Tribune. Other women Jessop married were related, one pair as mother and daughter, and another as sisters, documents state.
The pattern fits a give-and-take system Texas prosecutors have alleged in FLDS marriages.
"Get more wives, children, daughters, and marry your daughters into prominent families and get higher stature in the church," said private investigator Sam Brower, author of Prophet's Prey. "[Jessop] was anxious and glad to do it."
The bad acts were presented to help a jury decide Jessop's sentence and likely won't result in additional charges.
San Angelo defense attorney Rae Leifeste argued the conducting an unlawful ceremony law Jessop broke was less than a year old at the time of the July 2006 marriage ceremony, and no one at the Yearning for Zion Ranch would have been aware of it, the Standard-Times reported. Jessop may have presided over the marriage thinking it wouldn't be consummated until the girl was of age.
He also argued that 10 years was too long for a 75-year-old man.
Leifeste was able to keep the jury from hearing an audiotape of Jeffs sexually assaulting the girl. Judge Barbara Walther sustained Leifeste's objections on grounds of relevance, hearsay and that the voices had not been authenticated, the Standard-Times reported.
The tape has already been used as trial evidence against the 55-year-old Jeffs, who is serving a life prison sentence after being convicted in August of sexually assaulting that girl and another whom he took as plural wives. The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Jessop was the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' remote Texas ranch until January, when Jeffs reportedly excommunicated him. He is also the former husband of Carolyn Jessop, who also alleged abuse by Jessop in her bestselling book Escape. She testified during sentencing that her former husband disciplined his children by holding their faces under running water, the newspaper reported.
The evidence against him and 11 other FLDS men was gathered in a massive 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado.