Court photos show FLDS leader Warren Jeffs with child brides

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Photos showing Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) leader Warren Jeffs with child brides were entered into evidence Friday in a Texas court case involving children seized from the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) Ranch by State authorities in April. Texas officials removed over 400 children from the Eldorado, Texas YFZ Ranch in early April on suspicion of widespread child abuse.

The photos were entered into evidence as part of the case in Tom Green County District Court. Officials claim there is a "pervasive pattern" of underage girls forced into marriage with older men. The photos show Warren Jeffs kissing and hugging young girls, and attorneys for Texas Child Protective Services claim that one of the girls shown in the photos is a 12-year old "bride". The photos are dated from July 2006 and January 2005.

I do not consider a girl kissing a man sex abuse.

—Dan Jessop

The State of Texas is seeking custody of a baby boy born to Louisa Bradshaw and her "husband" Dan Jessop. According to the Deseret News, Jessop was asked if he thought the photos of Jeffs and the girls was evidence of sexual abuse, to which he responded, "I do not consider a girl kissing a man sex abuse." Child Protective Services lawyers told the court that the photos show Jeffs kissing the girls similar to "how a husband kisses a wife".

YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Image: Randy Mankin of the Eldorado Success.

Deseret News reported that Protective Services lawyers did not say how the images of Jeffs were obtained, but said that the photos illustrate a culture of abuse at the compound. According to CNN, information revealed in court shows that one of the girls in the photos is an aunt to the children involved in the Texas custody hearing and lived on the YFZ Ranch. CNN reports that the girl's birth date was given as July 1994 and she is 13 years old. She was taken into state custody by Texas officials along with other children in April.

ABC News reported that an alleged child bride shown in the photographs was set to give testimony in court, but state attorneys and FLDS representatives came to a resolution and agreed that Protective Services would retain custody of Louisa Bradshaw's baby. The baby was born in Texas state custody. Bradshaw was initially taken into custody as well because authorities thought she was under age, but it has since been revealed that she is over the age of 18. According to ABC News Bradshaw will remain with her baby in a shelter. Protective Services said that Bradshaw and Jessop lived in the same building as the 12-year old girl shown in the photographs with Jeffs.

Jeffs is seen in one set of photos from January 26, 2005 labeled "First anniversary" with a girl called "Loretta". In another set dated July 27, 2005, Jeffs is shown with a girl referred to as "Merrianne". Child Protective Services officials said that they have evidence that "Merrianne" was 12 years old when she was married to Jeffs at the YFZ compound. The Vancouver Sun reported that, per a family member, "Loretta" was no older than 12 when she was married. Portions from the set of photos were displayed at media sites including Radar Online, CNN, FOX News, National Nine News and ABC News, and the website The Smoking Gun made three of the court exhibits available for viewing.

...these photos have no ties to this particular family in a way that's relevant to these proceedings.

—Rod Parker, spokesman for FLDS families

In a statement made Tuesday to CNN, Salt Lake City, Utah attorney and spokesman for FLDS families Rod Parker said the photos were an effort by Child Protective Services to "get publicity" and "paint everybody with the same brush". "What I'm saying is, that isn't fair, and each parent of each family is entitled to stand on its own. And these photos have no ties to this particular family in a way that's relevant to these proceedings," said Parker.

Everyone who saw those photos did a complete gasp. I think they're shocking.

—Paul Murphy, Utah Attorney General's Office

"I'm sure law enforcement in several states will take a look to see what more can be done," said Utah Attorney General's Office Paul Murphy in a statement to ABC News. Murphy said that investigators may look further into the photographs to determine if evidence shows the girls were abused, and if so where, before charges could be brought. "Everyone who saw those photos did a complete gasp. I think they're shocking," he said.

In a ruling made last week in a case involving 38 FLDS mothers and 124 children, the Texas 3rd District Court of Appeals said that the state did not have the right to remove those children from the compound. The appeals court said that Child Protective Services was unable to prove that the children in the compound were at risk of immediate physical harm. Texas law states that "a danger to the physical health or safety of the child which was caused by an act or failure to act of the person entitled to possession and for the child to remain in the home is contrary to the welfare of the child" must be shown in order to remove that child from the home.

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed court papers Wednesday asserting that FLDS families may flee the state if they are reunited with their children after the Texas appeals court ruling. Protective Services officials are worried that if the families leave the court's jurisdiction, children could be at risk of abuse. In response, attorneys for mothers of the children in custody filed a counter-motion. The mothers claim that the children are under "continuing, irreparable harm every day that they are separated from their parents".

Warren Jeffs was convicted in September 2007 of two counts of being an accomplice to rape related to a 2001 wedding he arranged between a 14-year old girl and her 19-year old cousin. He was sentenced to two consecutive five-year prison sentences in Utah, and faces an impending trial in Arizona on eight charges including sexual conduct with a minor, incest and conspiracy.

The FLDS group has approximately 10,000 members total, and was founded in the 1930s. It split from the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) after the LDS Church abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890.


  Learn more about Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Warren Jeffs on Wikipedia.