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Mon, March 25

Jeffs indicted in Texas probe

ELDORADO, Texas - A Texas grand jury probing crimes of underage marriages within the Fundamentalist LDS Church handed down eight more indictments - including new charges against polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs.

Four people were indicted Wednesday, bringing the total number of people charged in the case to 12.

One was indicted on three counts of third-degree bigamy, another person was indicted on three counts of first-, second- and third-degree felony bigamy and tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony.

Jeffs, 52, was indicted on a first-degree felony count of aggravated sexual assault. That's in addition to the indictment handed down in July against the FLDS leader for sexual assault of a child.

"One of the three defendants was indicted for conducting an unlawful marriage ceremony involving a minor, which is a third-degree felony," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement Wednesday.

Dictations by Jeffs seized by law enforcement during the April raid on the YFZ Ranch indicate that FLDS leaders, including ranch leader Merril Jessop, performed marriage ceremonies involving underage girls. The papers were part of court documents introduced into evidence in the ongoing child custody case.

Schleicher County authorities refused to say who was indicted until they are booked into jail.

"The attorney general's office will arrange for their surrender through their attorneys," said Sheriff David Doran. "We'll handle it from there."

The grand jury's term, which was extended by three months, is set to expire after it meets again Dec. 16.

Reacting to the indictments in Salt Lake City, FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop accused Texas authorities of trying to save face from the raid.

"It's a desperate attempt to justify their barbaric actions," Jessop told the Deseret News. "When we get our day in court, everyone will see that what they did was criminal."

Hundreds of children were taken from the Eldorado property in April when law enforcement and child welfare workers went there to investigate a phone call from someone claiming to be a pregnant 16-year-old trapped in an abusive, polygamous marriage to an older man. On site, authorities claimed to see other evidence of abuse, prompting a judge to order the removal of all the children.

Approximately 439 children were returned two months later when two Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly and the children were not in immediate danger of abuse. Only 37 children remain under court jurisdiction in the case.

The phone call that sparked the raid is believed to be a hoax and, ironically, the woman suspected of making it appeared in a Colorado courtroom Wednesday on an unrelated charge.

Rozita Swinton appeared briefly in a Colorado Springs court as a judge canceled her January 2009 trial on a misdemeanor charge of making a false report to police. She is still undergoing a mental health evaluation, prosecutors said.

"Essentially, the case is on hold while she's undergoing this mental health evaluation," said El Paso County District Attorney's spokeswoman Lin Billings.

The Deseret News first reported last month that Swinton was entering in-patient mental health treatment in November. Court documents filed in Castle Rock, Colo., indicate that is also delaying a hearing on a probation violation there.

Swinton, 33, is accused of pretending to be a drugged teenage girl who called Colorado Springs police claiming she was chained in a basement and being abused. In Castle Rock, prosecutors say she claimed to be a 16-year-old girl who was going to abandon her baby and kill herself.


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