Trial date set in case of alleged teen bride
San Angelo, Texas » Texas child welfare authorities say a mother from a polygamous sect is now demonstrating "adequate and appropriate compliance" with a service plan for her daughter, who apparently was spiritually married at age 12 to sect leader Warren S. Jeffs.
But a spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services said the child's mother has much to do to convince authorities that her daughter has been abused but now would be safe in her care.
Patrick Crimmins said DFPS's primary goal is keep the girl in permanent state custody, as laid out in a Dec. 22 report filed with the 51st District Court in San Angelo. However, he said, the possibility remains that the girl could return to her mother.
In that report, DFPS said the child's mother, Barbara Jessop, failed a home study because she did not provide a "plan for how she might protect'' her daughter from being placed in another marriage. Crimmins said Barbara Jessop also has refused to acknowledge her daughter was married and sexually abused.
But Thursday, 51st District Judge Barbara Walther signed an agreed order saying Jessop is making progress. She also ordered a home study to see if the girl can be placed with Naomi Carlisle, a sect member and family friend. The girl has been in two different foster homes since August.
A trial that could settle her is set for Sept. 28.
Members of the Fundamentalist Church ofJesus Christ of Latter Day Saints live on a ranch in nearby Eldorado. The sect has property in British Columbia, Utah and other states.
The Salt Lake Tribune is not identifying the girl, a daughter of ranch bishop Merrill Jessop, because the state alleges she is a sexual assault victim.
Now 14, she is the only child among the 439 removed from the ranch last April who remains in state custody.
Walther ordered her returned to foster care after her mother refused to answer questions in court and balked at cooperating with caseworkers.
Merrill Jessop presided over the girl's marriage in 2006, according to court documents. He was indicted last fall by a Schleicher County Grand Jury for performing an illegal marriage, criminal scrutiny that may explain why he has failed to participate in his daughter's case.
Michele L. Surratt, DPFS attorney, told Walther she has been unable to reach Merrill Jessop and said he apparently has no legal representation. Walther said she will appoint an attorney to represent him.
The girl is one of 14 children with lawsuits still pending before Walther, who on Thursday dismissed a 15th case that also involved a girl who allegedly was married to Jeffs when she was 12.
During the hearing, the teenager sat on one side of the courtroom while her mother and brother Dan sat on the other.
Carmen Dusek, the girl's attorney ad litem, initially refused to allow them to interact, but finally relented during a recess. Dan Jessop shook his sister's hand and chatted quietly with her; Barbara Jessop hugged her daughter and spoke to her. After the hearing, mother and daughter were allowed a few moments together in a hallway.
Barbara Jessop's attorneys, Brett H. Pritchard and Valerie Malara, declined to comment after the hearing.
But FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop, who insists the girl was not abused, said "our hope is that when the judge is presented with all the facts she will return this girl back to her community and back to her family.
"We're going to do everything we can to get [her] home," he said. "This will be a case where no child is left behind in the raid."