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5 From West Texas Polygamy Sect Arraigned Tuesday in Sex Assault Case

July 30, 2008

By Emily Ramshaw, The Dallas Morning News

Jul. 30–AUSTIN — Five men from a West Texas polygamist sect were arraigned on Tuesday, the day after they surrendered to charges related to the sexual assault and “spiritual” marriage of underage girls.

As of Tuesday evening, four of the men — members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — remained in custody in Schleicher County. A fifth had posted bail and been released, a sect official said.

A sixth suspect, sect prophet Warren Jeffs, is in jail in Arizona, but could be extradited to Texas to face his sexual assault charge.

Sect leader Willie Jessop, who is speaking for the group in Mr. Jeffs’ absence, said he couldn’t confirm whether the other men who surrendered would post bail, and said he wasn’t at liberty to answer any more questions.

“I can’t go on the record with anything right now — I’ll explain later,” said Mr. Jessop, who has called the charges outrageous. “When all of this comes out, you will be very amused and shocked.”

Mr. Jeffs and four other men — Merril Leroy Jessop, 33; Raymond Jessop, 36; Michael Emack, 57; and Allan Keate, 56, — were charged with first-degree felony sexual assault of a child, a crime punishable by five years to life in prison. The younger Mr. Jessop, who uses his middle name, is also charged with first-degree felony bigamy, which means one of his alleged wives is younger than 16. At least three of the other men, including Mr. Jeffs, are believed to have taken underage wives.

Dr. Lloyd Barlow, a 38-year-old doctor whose indictment indicates he delivered the babies of underage mothers on the Yearning For Zion ranch, was charged with three misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse.

The Dallas Morning News does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

Other than Mr. Jeffs and Merril Leroy Jessop, all of the men charged with sexual assault are being held in lieu of $100,000 bail. Merril Leroy Jessop’s bail is $200,000 because he has two felony charges. Dr. Barlow’s bail was posted at $15,000; Willie Jessop said he picked Dr. Barlow up from jail on Tuesday afternoon. evening.

Any of the men who post bail will be required to refrain from contacting their alleged victims, surrender their passports, remain within the state of Texas and notify authorities before leaving the county, according to a statement released by the attorney general’s office. Dr. Barlow’s requirements are slightly more lenient because his charges are misdemeanors.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Monday he believes the bail is sufficient, though he has acknowledged the deep financial pockets of the Mormon breakaway sect.

Monday’s arrests follow a judge’s order in April that 440 children and about two dozen women should be removed from the polygamist community, over allegations the sect sanctioned sexual abuse and marriage between young girls and older men. State courts overturned that order months later, but law enforcement officials have continued to build its case against some of the ranch’s men.

A Schleicher County grand jury indicted the six men last week; all but Mr. Jeffs turned themselves in at the local jail on Monday.

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