“We are going to do everything we can to protect the children of Texas.” That was the response by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to a question asked at the West Texas Press Meeting two weeks ago in Fredericksburg. The query was about the pending grand jury meeting in Eldorado scheduled for the following Tuesday on the Yearning To Zion Ranch case.
There was some speculation among the newspaper people in attendance that Attorney General Abbott may be facing a public relations dilemma. There were some who doubted the state would treat the YTZ case the same as it would others. The first meeting of the grand jury in June returned without taking any action. The publicity surrounding the case had mounted since the Texas Supreme Court ruled the child welfare authorities overstepped in taking all of the FLDS children from their parents. In making the ruling, the court said even though many were infants and toddlers, the state failed to show any more than a handful of teenage girls were abused or were at risk.
What Abbott knew but was unable to tell the press association at the time was the state had an abundance of evidence collected by law enforcement during the weeklong raid at the YTZ Ranch in April. The state attorney’s office is acting as special prosecutors in the case. Sure enough, Tuesday, July 22 in a second meeting of the panel, five indictments on charges of felony sexual assault of a child were handed down. A sixth person was indicted for failing to report child abuse. And on Monday of last week, five members of the polygamist sect, indicted in the case, surrendered to authorities. The sixth, Warren Jeffs is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial in another case.
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said early in the YTZ Ranch operation they experienced the same reaction and response from the members of the ranch that he was accustomed to getting. It was difficult to find the children. The female members would move them from one floor in a building to another ahead of law enforcement officials and from one building to another. The women were very quiet, unresponsive and protective of the children. The sheriff said it was the same on his earlier visits. He would never hear a child crying, coughing or making any noise at all and they could have been in the next room.
The mothers and the older girls would not allow the younger children to talk to Child Protective Services personnel. Doran said the mood changed dramatically when Willie Jessop, a spokesman for the group, came on the loud speaker after a time during the raid and told the members of the ranch to cooperate. He said the change in behavior was immediate and appeared to be different than cooperation, it was more like obedience. A total of 463 children were taken by CPS representatives and placed in custody in San Angelo.
Included in the evidence collected were hundreds of boxes of photos, documents and family Bibles. But perhaps more important were the journals kept by the FDLS men. Doran said most of the main floors of the residential buildings had been swept clean but apparently there was not enough time to complete a similar task on the upper floors.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, but reports indicate the journals have documentation of underage girls being married to older men and notes on intimacies between FDLS men and young girls. Under Texas law, a girl younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult making the actions chronicled in the journals illegal, if not technically child abuse. Bigamy is also illegal in Texas, and although FLDS marriages were not licensed by the state, the law contains a provision outlawing the act of “purporting to marry” more than one person.
It was difficult for members of the press group to comprehend the thinking that would allow a mother, or a father, to stand by and let their young child to essentially be raped by an elder male in the FDLS. Doran said, you have to understand this is a fundamental belief of the sect, parents see it as an honor - they have been singled out as the elite and hand-picked by the group.
Attorney General Abbott said the state’s investigation into the matter of the YTZ Ranch did not conclude with the indictments. It is an ongoing investigation that he intends to continue. Abbott and his office are to be applauded.
Robert Brincefield is vice president and publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.