SAN ANGELO, Texas A deal has been struck involving an infant caught up in the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch.
"I understand y'all have reached a tentative agreement," Judge Barbara Walther said today after a 2 1/2-hour delay, so lawyers could negotiate behind closed doors.
The deal gives the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services sole conservatorship over the baby, born two weeks ago to Dan Jessop and his wife, Louisa Bradshaw (Jessop). It names the parents as temporary possessors.
"I feel good about it," Dan Jessop said as he walked out of the courtroom. "It's one step closer to my family being together."
Bradshaw will stay in a San Antonio shelter with her baby. Her two other children, a 3-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, will be moved from a foster care facility in Austin to join her. The deal is also pending a decision by the Texas Supreme Court about what to do with hundreds of other children in state custody.
Today's hearing would have called numerous child witnesses, attorneys said, including a 13-year-old girl whom Texas Child Protective Services suggested last week was a child bride of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. The girl is a sister of Dan Jessop.
Jessop's attorney, Pat Matassarin, said the agreement was reached in a "collective effort." She had filed a motion to continue the hearing when she learned that the witnesses were going to testify and CPS lawyers had come to court with documents several inches thick but she had no idea what they would be talking about.
"The only thing they're supposed to be addressing is the physical well-being of the baby," Matassarin said. "Not 13-year-olds, not 15-year-olds, none of that."
Matassarin was referring to photographs introduced into evidence last week that showed a 12-year-old girl kissing Jeffs in a manner that lawyers for CPS described as "how a husband kisses a wife."
Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney acting as a spokesman for the FLDS Church, accused Texas child welfare authorities of engaging in a "publicity stunt" with courtroom evidence.
"They have nothing to do with this family," he said. "It's just an effort by CPS to get publicity for their larger intent to paint everybody with this same brush. These photos have no tie to this particular family in a way that's relevant to these proceedings."
In a copy of the agreement obtained by the Deseret News, a handwritten finding initialed by everyone involved in the case, revealed that the girl in the photos kissing Jeffs lived in the same house as Dan and Louisa Jessop.
On the witness stand Friday, Bradshaw struggled to name anyone who lived in the house with her, except for her husband and children.
This morning, two pieces of evidence were entered into court. Texas CPS attorney Ellen Griffith told the judge one was a marriage record dated July 2006 and another dated December 2003. The 2006 record immediately was sealed by the judge after a request by an attorney representing the girl in the photograph.
The 2003 record is presumed to be Dan and Louisa Jessop's marriage record.
Baby Richard Jessop was born while his mother was in state custody. CPS workers considered Bradshaw a "disputed minor." After the baby's birth, however, CPS declared her an adult (she is 22) and sought to have the child placed in state custody along with more than 450 other FLDS children caught up in the raid.
Texas child welfare authorities have been making a case that the YFZ Ranch is one household and that children at the sprawling Eldorado property are at risk, with girls growing up to be child brides and boys growing up to be sexual perpetrators.
While he considers it a partial victory, Jessop said he isn't sure when his children will actually be reunited with their mother."We're trying to have faith in the government," he said. "It's pretty rough right now. We're working hard at it. I think CPS did a good move today."
E-mail: [email protected]