ELDORADO, Texas FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and five other men were indicted late Tuesday by a Texas grand jury that convened all day.
Jeffs is the only one of the six identified by Texas authorities as facing criminal charges because he is in custody in an Arizona jail. He was indicted on first-degree felony sexual assault of child with bail set at $100,000, although Jeffs is currently serving up to life in prison for rape as an accomplice after he was convicted of performing a marriage between an underage girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
Four of the five other men were indicted on a first-degree felony charge of sexually assaulting girls under age 17. One man faces an additional charge of bigamy, also a first-degree felony, while another man has been charged with three counts of failing to report child abuse, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
"The indictments issued today are part of an ongoing and continuing criminal investigation," Abbott said.
The first-degree felonies carry potential sentences of five to 99 years in life in prison or life in prison while failure to report, a class B misdemeanor, can mean up to six months in jail.
The names of the others indicted will not be publicly disclosed until the indictments are served.
On that note, Abbott stressed that authorities are launching an "aggressive effort to apprehend," the five men and also plan to have Jeffs' extradited as quickly as possible. Texas authorities, he added, are going to push for a speedy trial.
The 12-member grand jury was escorted out of the Schleicher County Memorial Building about 5:30 p.m. local time. They are expected to reconvene again next month.
"It's not surprising," said Rod Parker, a Salt Lake attorney acting as a spokesman for the Fundamentalist LDS Church. "The real question is, what evidence would they have to support a conviction?"
It was a long day as members of the FLDS Church were brought in and out of the building to testify. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was also present. In the afternoon, trouble appeared to develop that led to Judge Barbara Walther appearing at the courthouse. No reason for her presence was disclosed.
FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop was en route to the grand jury this morning when he was pulled over in a traffic stop. Asked why he was stopped, Jessop chuckled to reporters.
"I think it's obvious," he said.
Soon, Jessop was led into the building to testify.
Tight security surrounded the courthouse and the adjacent memorial building. Yellow police tape surrounded the entire block, pushing news media gathered here even further back than they were at last month's grand jury meeting. Numerous sheriff's deputies were stationed at every entrance. Texas Rangers in their typical white cowboy hats were seen walking in and out of the memorial building.
Earlier this morning, several men in dark suits could be seen taking boxes of files and what appeared to be a rolling projector screen into the memorial building.
Abbott is also on the witness list for a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday into crimes associated with polygamy. Jessop was also planning to be there, even though no FLDS members have been invited to testify.
Asked if he still planned to attend the hearing in Washington, D.C., Jessop told reporters: "That depends on what they do to me today."
The Schleicher County grand jury is believed to be investigating allegations of underage marriages. Hundreds of children were taken from the YFZ Ranch in a raid based on a phone call from someone claiming to be a pregnant 16-year-old girl in an abusive marriage. Once on site, Texas child welfare and law enforcement authorities claimed to have seen other signs of abuse.However, all of the children were returned when two Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly. The phone call itself is still being investigated as a hoax.
Contributing: Ben Winslow E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]