FLDS Hearings Turn on Ages of Mothers

Fallout from West Texas raid continues

Judges in Tom Green County this week will preside over so-called "60-day hearings" for each of the 463 children seized from the West Texas compound of Mormon breakaway sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during an April raid. The hearings, still ongoing at press time, are required to set out exactly what would be required of parents seeking to be reunited with their kids, all of whom are currently in foster care. Unfortun­ate­ly, to date, the state has not devised any individual service plans for any of the families seeking to be reunited with their children.

Still, exactly how many children the state took into custody is currently a subject of increasing debate. At first, the state's Child Protective Services said that some 60% of the teen girls they'd taken into custody were pregnant or had children – a figure that would, obviously, bolster their claim of widespread sexual abuse inside the compound. Now, though, at least two "girls" who have given birth since leaving the compound have been found to be adult women – including a 22-year-old named Louisa Bradshaw Jessop. Jessop tried to show her Utah birth certificate to CPS officials before leaving the ranch, the Associated Press reports, but officials apparently didn't believe the authenticity of the document. Now CPS has admitted she's an adult – and they've also seized custody of her newborn. The accusation currently facing CPS is that they knew at the time of the April raid that some of the pregnant "teens" were actually adults but ignored that fact, in an effort to take custody of their unborn children. Now, the ages of 24 other young mothers are also in dispute, according to AP reports. CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins says the state is working hard to verify the age of each one: "There is no reluctance on our part to go ahead and take appropriate action if and when we can determine these are adults," he said. "We are working as quickly as possible to sort this out and realize the urgency." But Rod Parker, FLDS' Utah attorney and current spokesman, says CPS is "deliberately ignoring" official documents – like birth certificates and Social Security cards – that prove some of the young mothers are not minors. Jessop's attorney Patricia Matas­sa­rin says the situation is frustrating: "The issue is, how does anyone prove their date of birth? We don't get a date stamp when we're born."

Meanwhile, as the fallout from the FLDS raid continues, lawyers for FLDS polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs appeared in Arizona court last week, trying to get charges against the sect's leader dropped. Jeffs was convicted on two counts of rape-as-accomplice in Utah last year, in connection with his role in arranging a marriage between an underage girl and her older cousin in 2001. He was sentenced to two terms of five years to life and now is awaiting trial in Arizona, where he is charged both with being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor and with incest. But on May 16, his lawyer Mike Piccarreta told Mohave Co. Superior Court Judge Steven Conn that Jeffs can be tried for sexual conduct or incest but not both, reports the AP. In fact, Piccar­ret­a argued, the incest charges are bogus: The marriage in question was between two half-cousins, who under Arizona law are allowed to marry. "So, it's not incest," he told Conn. Conn did not immediately rule.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FLDS, Warren Jeffs, Mike Piccarreta, Rod Parker, Patricia Matassarin

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