SAN ANGELO, Texas Shocking photographs of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs kissing someone that Texas Child Protective Services lawyers alleged is a 12-year-old "wife" have become evidence in a custody battle over a 1-week-old baby.
The photographs, dated July 2006, were entered into evidence Friday during a hearing involving the custody of Richard Joseph Jessop, born last week to Louisa Bradshaw (Jessop) and her husband, Dan Jessop. The state is seeking custody of the baby.
Texas Child Protective Services lawyers would not say where they obtained the photographs but entered them into evidence in the case to prove their point about the FLDS culture being abusive, with girls growing up to be child brides and boys being primed to become sexual predators.
"Yes, it's shocking," Dan Jessop told reporters outside of court. "You see far worse, immoral, disgusting, gross things than a girl kissing a man in the streets of your own community. And you and I don't know if the state of Texas fabricated that."
Lawyers for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services refused to comment on the photos as they raced out of the courthouse. A spokeswoman for the agency also declined comment late Friday night.
It appears the state is firing back after an appellate court ruling Thursday that ordered some children from the YFZ Ranch to be returned to their mothers immediately, citing a lack of evidence that there was an immediate danger.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services asked the Texas Supreme Court for an emergency stay and appealed the decision. It came the same day child welfare authorities agreed to reunite 12 children with their parents in San Antonio, until the high court issues its ruling.
The hearing for Dan and Louisa Jessop will resume on Tuesday morning. It is unclear if the massive status hearings for the parents of the 450-plus children will continue Tuesday.
During grueling questioning on the witness stand Friday, Louisa Bradshaw appeared evasive, answering "I don't know" to inquiries about where she has lived, how she came to be at the YFZ Ranch and who lives in the home with her. Her testimony revealed she lived most recently with her husband in a home with YFZ Ranch boss Merrill Jessop, Dan's father.
Bradshaw struggled to name anyone else who lived in the home, aside from her own children and one of Merrill Jessop's wives, Barbara.
"Is it a concern to you that you don't know the people in the house?" CPS attorney Ellen Griffith asked her.
"No," Bradshaw replied.
"How do you know they are safe to be around?"
"Because they are sweet."
If he were to have his way, Dan Jessop would have the children return to the YFZ Ranch. That troubled Randol Stout, an attorney appointed by the courts to represent the baby. He grilled Jessop about his home life and what would change.
"What else is going to change? Anything?" he demanded to know.
Together, Dan Jessop and Louisa Bradshaw's testimony revealed a portrait of their life in the polygamous sect. Jessop said he met his wife on the day of their wedding on Dec. 14, 2003. His father asked him if he'd like to be married and said that his bride had been chosen for him.
"I don't think I could have made a better choice," Jessop said, smiling at his wife from the witness stand.
Bradshaw testified that she was married to Jessop in a ceremony presided over by Warren Jeffs. Only their fathers attended.
Jessop had no more than an eighth-grade education, but he makes a decent living working for the FLDS Church as a heavy-machinery mechanic. Bradshaw, who completed tenth grade, has experience in accounting.
The couple has three children now, a 3-year-old
girl, a 2-year-old boy and the baby. They moved to the YFZ Ranch, then moved to Colorado (Jessop was vague under questioning about where) before returning to the YFZ Ranch again, where they lived in a bedroom with their children in Merril Jessop's home.
When the raid occurred on April 3, Bradshaw and her children were placed in state custody. Bradshaw was in the category of the so-called "disputed minors," girls that the state believed were underage, but whom the FLDS insisted were adults. Over the past week of court hearings, the state's number has been steadily whittled away. Now, Texas concedes that 15 of the 31 women in foster care are adults, including one who is 27.
In Bradshaw's case, she provided them with documentation of her age but it wasn't believed.
"They finally found out the second my baby was born," the 22-year-old woman said.
Asked how she was treated by Texas child welfare workers, Bradshaw said she has had few meetings with them, they have never spoken to her about services and never identified any physical dangers to her son or told her where she failed to protect her children from abuse.
Asked if she would allow her 3-year-old daughter to marry at age 14, Jessop replied, "No. Not right now."
Asked what is age appropriate to be married, she replied: "Seventeen or 18."
"Is it your purpose to raise your child to be a sexual predator to have sex with an underage girl?" Jessop's attorney, Patricia Matassarin, asked Dan Jessop.
"Morals are our highest standard. That's the farthest thing from what we teach," he replied.
Jessop and his wife said that if the state wanted them to move off the ranch in order to have custody of their children, they would. Asked why they would leave the ranch, Bradshaw said: "To get out of the way of CPS."
Pressing their case about a pervasive pattern of sex abuse within the FLDS culture, CPS attorney Ellen Griffith showed photos to Bradshaw, claiming that the girl in the pictures is 13.
"Is that (the girl) in that picture?" Griffith asked.
"Yes," Jessop replied.
"Who is that?" she asked, pointing at the man in the picture.
Bradshaw said she had never seen those pictures before.
"Do you know whether (the girl) is married to the prophet?"
"I do not know for sure."
The photographs show Jeffs kissing the girls in a manner that CPS lawyers described as "how a husband kisses a wife."
Bradshaw's attorneys objected to the use of the photos in evidence, but CPS said they were presented to show the woman's state of mind and how she would protect her own children.
"It just happens to be Warren Jeffs in the pictures," Griffith said.
More photos, entitled "First Anniversary January 26, 2005" were also entered into evidence. The girl in those pictures is also kissing Jeffs. CPS lawyers did not elaborate on that particular photo, but suggested again that the girl is a minor.
On the stand, Jessop revealed that the girl in question was one of his sisters but he said he did not know if she was married to the FLDS leader.
Jessop was asked if he considered the photographs evidence of sexual abuse.
"I do not consider a girl kissing a man sex abuse," he said.
Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney acting as a spokesman for the FLDS Church, told the Deseret News late Friday the release of the photographs is a public relations move on the part of Texas CPS officials.
"They don't have anything to do with Dan and Louisa Jessop. They have to do with somebody else," he said.
Jeffs was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is currently in an Arizona jail, where he is facing charges accusing him of performing more child-bride marriages.
Bradshaw said as far as she is concerned, Jeffs is in prison for "unjust causes."
"Why is that?" Griffith asked.
"Because he is perfect to me," she said.
As shocking as the photographs were, attorneys for the couple tried to figure out what they had to do with Dan Jessop and Louisa Bradshaw.
Matassarin objected to the line of questioning by attorneys, making reference to the 3rd Court of Appeals decision vacating Judge Barbara Walther's order placing the children in state custody. She wondered what was the immediate or dire emergency that led the state to take custody of the Jessop's child.
Walther shot her down, saying she has been criticized for not providing enough evidence.
"We're going to have a full blown adversarial hearing and if it takes two or three days, we'll do it," the judge said.
As they walked down the courthouse steps toward a crush of cameras and reporters, Louisa Bradshaw lifted the baby blanket to reveal the newborn son she was cradling in her arms to a few reporters. He was asleep, sucking on a pacifier.
Jessop said it was only the second time he has seen his son since the baby was born. As he spoke to reporters, a CPS worker interrupted him.
"We need to take her," the woman said, trying to remove his arm which was wrapped around his wife.
"I'll walk with her," he said.
"We have to go," the worker said, prodding them toward the street. "Come on, let's go."309 comments on this story
The couple walked toward an SUV, where Bradshaw was loaded in the back seat and her baby was placed in a carseat next to her. Jessop reached in and hugged his wife."It's rough to be separated from your family over and over again," he said.