8 new indictments issued in Texas polygamist case - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

8 new indictments issued in Texas polygamist case

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Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 12:48 am | Updated: 9:10 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

ELDORADO, Texas - A grand jury on Wednesday indicted another three members of a polygamist sect that was the focus of a massive raid in west Texas during the spring.

The state attorney general's office said four people were named in eight new indictments, but one of them — sect leader Warren Jeffs — had been previously charged.

The grand jury in Schleicher County has now charged 12 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

A sexual assault charge was added against Jeffs, who previously was charged in Texas with bigamy and aggravated sexual assault of a child. Two people were indicted on bigamy charges Wednesday, and another was charged with conducting an unlawful marriage ceremony involving a minor, the attorney general's office said in a statement.

All but one of the nine men previously indicted are charged with sexual assault of a child. Several of those men also face bigamy charges. The sect's doctor is charged only with misdemeanor counts of failure to report child abuse.

The church's attorney, Rod Parker, said late Wednesday the grand jury's investigation seems to be winding down.

Charges of bigamy will be difficult to prove, he said, because plural FLDS marriages were sanctioned in the church but not legal marriages. Texas law makes it illegal to even purport to marry more than one person, but Parker said enforcement against consenting adults will face a constitutional challenge.

"When you talk about making bigamy a crime in a setting where there is not a civil marriage ... it is not constitutional," he said, comparing the relationships to other cohabitating couples.

The grand jury has been hearing evidence since the summer after authorities raided a ranch in Eldorado looking for evidence of girls forced into underage marriages. Hundreds of children were taken into custody before a court ordered them to be returned.

Grand jury proceedings are secret by law, but records that law enforcement confiscated from church offices indicated a number of girls, some as young as 12, were given away in marriage to Jeffs and other men in the sect. The records also showed plural marriages were common but not universal within the sect.

The criminal charges are separate from the unwieldly child custody case. Those civil cases are winding down with all but a few families free of court oversight.

The FLDS is a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago. The FLDS, based primarily in small communities along the Arizona-Utah line, believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven.

Jeffs has been convicted as an accomplice to rape in Utah, and awaits trial in Arizona for alleged involvement in underage marriages there.

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