Former polygamist bishop convicted of performing illegal wedding ceremony

Published: Monday, Nov. 7 2011 10:34 p.m. MST

Fredrick Merril Jessop, a former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, walks to the front entrance of the Coke County Courthouse in Robert Lee, Texas on Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 with attorney Rae Leifeste.

Associated Press

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ROBERT LEE, Texas — A former polygamist bishop was convicted Monday of performing an illegal wedding ceremony between a 12-year-old girl and sect leader Warren Jeffs.

Jurors deliberated about an hour and 20 minutes before finding Fredrick Merril Jessop guilty of officiating over the 2006 ceremony at Yearning for Zion Ranch, owned by the Fundamentalist LDS Church.

The FLDS holds polygamy as a fundamental belief and its men take multiple wives in what are termed "celestial marriages" in a ceremony called a "sealing."

Jessop's attorney, Rae Leifeste, told jurors in the west Texas town of Robert Lee that because there was no marriage license for the "sealing," it was different from a wedding ceremony that can be prosecuted, the San Angelo Standard Times reported.

But lead prosecutor Angela Goodwin told the jury that "Texas law is as clear as a bell" about what a marriage ceremony is.

The sentencing phase of the trial started in the afternoon and was to continue Tuesday. Jessop, 75, faces between two and 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Much of the prosecution's case rested on documents seized in a 2008 raid on the ranch near Eldorado. Concerns over the difficulty of choosing an unbiased jury in sparsely populated Schleicher County, where the ranch is located, prompted the judge to move Jessop's trial about 70 miles north to Coke County.

Jeffs is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting that girl and another 15-year-old girl. Jeffs excommunicated Jessop sometime after he performed the wedding ceremony.

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