Ex-bishop of polygamist sect goes on trial
ROBERT LEE (AP) — A former bishop accused of marrying an underage girl to polygamist group leader Warren Jeffs goes on trial this week in Texas.
Jury selection for 75-year-old Frederick Merril Jessop is scheduled to start Monday in Robert Lee.
Jessop is charged with one felony count of performing an illegal wedding ceremony. The wedding occurred in 2006 at the West Texas Yearning for Zion ranch owned by the Jeffs-led Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The Utah-based church practices polygamy in arranged marriages that sometimes involve underage girls. The faith believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.
Authorities raided the sect’s Eldorado ranch in 2008 after a telephone call alleging the abuse of an underage bride by her husband was placed to a domestic violence hotline. More than 400 children were temporarily removed from the ranch and placed in state protective custody.
Although the call was later investigated as a hoax, prosecutors have used family and church records seized in the raid to bring charges against 12 sect men, including Jessop and Jeffs.
In August, Jeffs was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two of his child brides. Prosecutors said Jeffs had two dozen underage wives in all.
Prosecutors say one of Jessop’s daughters was allegedly married to Jeffs at age 12. The girl was the only child from the YFZ ranch to remain in foster care after the courts ordered the children removed during the raid returned to their parents.
Jessop was a longtime FLDS bishop and senior church leader believed to be second in-line for the presidency after Jeffs. He was in charge of running the daily operations at the YFZ ranch until January, when he was reportedly ex-communicated from the faith.
One of Jessop’s wives, Carolyn, fled the FLDS community on the Arizona-Utah line with her children in 2003 and wrote a best-selling book, “Escape.”
Last year, a Texas judge ordered Jessop to pay his former wife $148,000 for seven years of back child support.