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November 10, 2009

Texas conviction of FLDS member resulting in fascinating jury sentencing experience

As detailed in this local report, which is headlined "Testimony in Sentencing for FLDS Member," the recent conviction in Texas of an FLDS member on sex charges has now led to a fascinating jury sentencing proceeding:

A jury that convicted a member of the Utah-based FLDS Church will begin deliberating his sentence. After a day-long hearing on Monday that included hours of testimony, a judge set closing arguments and deliberations on Tuesday in the case of Raymond Jessop. Jessop, 38, was convicted of child sex assault for fathering a child with a 16-year-old girl who was a polygamous wife. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

The jury is deciding the sentence. On Monday, testimony included an FBI agent, a pair of Texas Rangers who testified about documents, and two former members of the polygamous church.

Here are more details about the jury sentencing proceedings in this case from additional media accounts headlined "Talk of 'celestial wives,' long-term effects of assault," and "Sentence is expected Tuesday for FLDS man":

Jurors are to report back 9:30 a.m. today to the improvised 51st Judicial District Courtroom to hear closing statements from the defense and prosecution.  Then they will begin the task of deliberating on what his punishment should be for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in November 2004 at the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado.

Jurors will have to choose between two portraits drawn in the courtroom of Jessop.  Is he the self-sacrificing, hardworking father who can cross the boundaries of religion and culture to form friendships and who can be trusted not to smoke, drink or cuss around someone’s family?

Or, as the prosecution would have jurors believe, is Jessop the powerful FLDS man who benefited from the church grooming underage girls to accept marriage with men twice their age, married eight “purported” wives in addition to his legal wife, helped hide now imprisoned Warren Jeffs and endangered his unborn child and the victim while she was in labor?

Jessop could receive two to 20 years in prison.  He could also receive community supervision.

Anyone inclined to make predictions about how the jury will sentence in this case?

November 10, 2009 at 09:15 AM | Permalink


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I wouldn't be surprised to see them give the max - a full 20 years. It'd likely be much less if they'd gotten a change of venue - maybe even probation.

These trials are part of a longstanding campaign by locals in Eldorado (pronounced with a long "A") to run the FLDS out of West Texas and the jury pool there is tiny and homogenous. (They excluded eligible FLDS members from the jury.) Indeed, the law he's accused of breaking was changed specifically to target this sect in 2005 one year after they arrived in the state. The state rep from that district got the Lege to increase the minimum marriage age with parental consent to 16 from 14, specifically identifying this group's arrival in the legislative record as his motivation for changing the law.

There are a lot of fascinating issues swirling around this case, but unfortunately they're not being considered thoughtfully because too many people in power were embarrassed by the fallout from last year's raid. A few prosecutors at the AG and the local judge have basically staked their careers and reputations on proving something, anything, criminal in court against the FLDS, then getting the max penalties - as though that would somehow justify illegally seizing up 400+ kids in the Great Eldorado Polygamist Roundup.

Nobody ever thinks of the unintended consequences of these changes. By upping the marriage age with parental consent, this "pro-family" legislator basically mandated by statute hundreds more unwed Texas mothers, since girls under 16 still sometimes have babies. This whole campaign to drive out the FLDS has been a massive fiasco; the juice hasn't remotely been worth the squeeze.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 10, 2009 9:57:34 AM

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