Jury chosen for trial of polygamist ex-bishop

By Robert Lee
Associated Press

A jury was chosen Monday for the trial of a former bishop of a polygamist group accused of marrying an underage girl to group leader Warren Jeffs.

Eight women and four men were chosen Monday night for the jury in the trial of Frederick Merril Jessop, 75.

Two men also were chosen as alternate jurors, the San Angelo Standard-Times reported.

Opening statements were scheduled for Tuesday morning in a state district court in Robert Lee.

Jessop is charged with a felony count of performing an illegal wedding ceremony in 2006 at the polygamist group’s West Texas ranch.

The Yearning for Zion ranch near Eldorado is 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.

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.

Concerns over the difficulty of choosing an unbiased jury in sparsely populated Schleicher County, where the ranch is situated, prompted the judge to move the Jessop trial 70 miles north to Coke County.

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.