SAN ANGELO, Texas Lawyers for Texas Child Protective Services dropped several bombshells in court today as they try to make their case for why the state should take custody of a 1-week-old baby born to a woman who was once declared a minor.
During grueling questioning on the witness stand, Louisa Jessop answered, "I don't know" to many questions CPS lawyers posed to her, including where she lived before, how she came to be there, and who lived in the home with her.
Testimony revealed she lived most recently in a home with YFZ Ranch leader Merrill Jessop and his son Dan, who is her husband.
But Jessop struggled to name anyone else who lived in the home, aside from Merrill Jessop's wife Barbara and her own husband, Dan, and her children.
Jessop testified she was married to her husband by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. She didn't know her husband that well before she married him.
Pressing their case about the department's belief about a pervasive pattern of sex abuse on the ranch, where girls grow up to be child brides and boys predators, CPS attorney Ellen Griffiths showed photos to Jessop, claiming that the girl in the picture was 13.
"Is that (the girl) in that picture?" Griffiths asked.
"Yes," Jessop replied.
"Who is that," she asked, pointing at the man in the picture.
Jessop 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."
In later questioning, CPS lawyers presented more photos and described Jeffs in the photos as kissing the girls in a manner of "how a husband kisses a wife."
Lawyers for Jessop objected to the use of the photographs, but lawyers said they were presented to show Jessop's state of mind and how she would protect her children.
"It just happens to be Warren Jeffs in the pictures," Griffiths said.
On the stand, Jessop described how she has been treated by child welfare workers, saying she has had few meetings with them and they only determined she was an adult the second she gave birth to her son.
Asked about her children, she broke down into tears and said, "Just to think of them now breaks my heart."
She said the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has never talked to her about services, has never identified any physical dangers to her son or told her she ever failed to protect her child from abuse.
"Have you ever lived in a place where you felt unsafe?" her attorney asked.
"If you felt unsafe, how would you react?"
"I've never lived in an unsafe home."
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."
Asked if the prophet had ever told anyone in her family to marriage at age 14, Jessop said not that she knew of.
Later, her husband, Dan Jessop, took the witness stand. As CPS lawyers read him a long list of names, he interrupted them saying, "I beg to differ if this has anything to do with my son."
CPS lawyers pressed forward, trying to make their case of prevalent sex abuse within the FLDS culture. CPS attorney Eric Tai asked if there was anything wrong with a 14-year-old girl getting married to an older man.
"I think there's everything wrong with that," Dan Jessop said.
"It's against my religion, against my beliefs. I have no idea of anything like that happening."
Tai then suggested that one of his sisters is married to Jeffs.
Dan Jessop's lawyer, Patricia Matassarin, objected to the hearing itself, making reference to Thursday's 3rd Court of Appeals ruling vacating Judge Barbara Walther's order to put the children in state custody. Matassarin wondered if there was any immediate or dire emergency for why the state should have custody of the child.
Walther shot her down, saying that she was criticized before for not presenting 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.
When shown the photographs of Warren Jeffs and the alleged child brides, Jessop was asked if he considered the photographs of Jeffs kissing what was alleged to be an underage girl, sex abuse.
"I do not consider a girl kissing a man sex abuse," he replied.
Outside of court, Jessop was separated from his wife, Louisa, by CPS workers before a crush of cameras and reporters. He told reporters the court appearance was was only the second he has seen his son since the baby was born.
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