|'I stand on Fifth,' FLDS mom tells court in custody battle|
CPS wants judge to put 7 children in foster care
By Ben Winslow|
SAN ANGELO, Texas — To nearly every question she was asked, Barbara Jessop gave the same answer: "I stand on the Fifth."
"Can you name the children you have given birth to?" Texas Child Protective Services attorney Jeff Schmidt asked her during a contentious custody hearing here on Monday.
"I stand on the Fifth," she replied stoically.
"What dates did you live at the YFZ Ranch?"
"I stand on the Fifth."
"Is it wrong for a girl under 17 to marry a man more than 21 years older than she is?"
"I stand on the Fifth."
Child Protective Services is seeking to remove seven FLDS children from their homes and place them in foster care.
They are among the hundreds taken in the April raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch who were subsequently ordered returned a couple of months later. Two cases involving three children are being negotiated in hopes of a possible settlement.
"We're hopeful that there will be an agreement and that the judge will hear it," said CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner.
At the hearing Monday, Jessop's attorney said she didn't want to answer the questions because they could incriminate her in a criminal investigation that is under way.
Jessop refused to identify her daughter in photos presented to her that showed her then-12-year-old daughter kissing Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs on their purported wedding day.
"Do you think it's in the best interests to protect a child from harm?" Schmidt asked her.
"Yes," Jessop replied, breaking from her usual reply.
Then Jessop went back to exercising her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, refusing to answer more than 50 questions peppered at her. A wife of YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop, she is fighting Child Protective Services' efforts to have two of her children placed in foster care.
Merril Jessop did not appear for the hearing.
The hearing is scheduled to resume again today, with Barbara Jessop's attorney, Gonzalo Rios, presenting his case. On Monday, he repeatedly stood up, objecting to everything from evidence to the hearing itself.
"They are not alleging anything that's happened since these children have been with my client," Rios said, referring to when they moved into a home in Converse, Texas, after the courts ordered all of the children taken in the April raid on the YFZ Ranch returned to their parents.
As a surprise witness, CPS lawyers called Merril Jessop's ex-wife Carolyn Jessop to the witness stand.
In dramatic testimony, the best-selling author described her marriage and accused both Merril and Barbara Jessop of abusing her children.
"I was involved with the FLDS for 35 years," she said. "I am able to protect my children. Most, I believe, are in a safe place now."
She described her former "sister-wife" Barbara Jessop beating one of Barbara Jessop's children with a broom as the family sang a hymn, "Love At Home," during a Sunday school session.
Carolyn Jessop left the FLDS Church about five years ago, taking her eight kids with her. She chronicled it in her memoir, "Escape."
Under cross-examination, she acknowledged that her 19-year-old daughter, Betty, returned to the FLDS Church. She also acknowledged she saw Barbara Jessop do things that would be considered "good parenting."
Rios suggested Carolyn Jessop was testifying for publicity and money. She acknowledged she was paid nearly $250,000 for her book but said that she has not worked since she left the FLDS Church and has been the sole provider for her children, including one who is handicapped.
Some of the incidents Carolyn Jessop described happened as far back as 20 years ago, Rios said.
"Have you ever hit your children?" he asked her.
"A few times before I left (the FLDS)," she replied. "I didn't like hitting. After I left, there's never been an episode."
Apparently stunned by the testimony, FLDS member Willie Jessop escorted Betty Jessop into the courthouse as the afternoon session began. She is expected to testify today.
"We'll see if she has a different story," Willie Jessop told the Deseret News.
During the hearing, Rios attacked the evidence seized from the YFZ Ranch, including marriage certificates, photos, love letters and bishop's records. At one point, he sought to have evidence excluded but then asked for the hundreds of thousands of pieces of YFZ evidence to be brought into the case.
"Is that really what you want?" Judge Barbara Walther asked him.
Rios successfully got photos of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs kissing underage girls kept out of his case, but Child Protective Services introduced records that detailed at least nine marriages involving underage girls to older men.
Concerning Barbara Jessop's 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, CPS workers said they have exhausted efforts to avoid placing them in foster care. Efforts to find others to care for the children haven't worked out.
"How many am I supposed to contact?" CPS investigator Ruby Gutierrez asked a lawyer representing Jessop's daughter.
Gutierrez acknowledged that the 11-year-old boy has shown no signs of abuse but said his sister being married to Jeffs at age 12 no doubt had an effect on him. She testified that two of Jessop's adult sons took underage brides, and three daughters were married underage.
But with Jeffs in jail, Rios asked her if she had any evidence to show marriages are happening now. She said she did not have any beyond Aug. 2, 2006 — weeks before Jeffs was arrested.
"What would it take for the children to stay with their mother?" Walther asked at the end of the hearing.
Gutierrez said she had concerns about Jessop's disciplinary behavior, the children's education and financial well-being, and she sought to have a DNA test for Merril Jessop.
"I can't go back and undo the 12-year-old marriage," she said.
A Texas grand jury is scheduled to meet on Thursday to hear evidence of crimes involving FLDS members. Six men, including Jeffs, have been indicted on charges ranging from sexual assault of children to bigamy and failure to report child abuse.
Originally published Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008
|For more information email:|