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Texas court evidence
Photo of Warren Jeffs and a girl whom authorities claim was 14 at the time they were married. Photos were entered into court evidence Tuesday, August 5, 2008. The girl's face was blurred intentionally to protect her identity.

Marriage records, dictations and even love letters to Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs are being used to bolster Texas child welfare authorities' claims of underage marriages within the Utah-based polygamous sect.

Documents filed in a San Angelo court on Tuesday allege more marriages — including a pair of 12-year-old girls married to Jeffs.

"I am praying to become a Heavenly comfort Wife for you. I love you so much I pray I may be worthy to advance. I fill (sic) you so close. Love always," one of the girls wrote in a 2005 letter included in the court filings.

In dictations made by Jeffs, other FLDS leaders are implicated in the marriage ceremonies — including YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop.

"Then I looked at Merril Jessop and he looked at me and he said, 'I am willing,' and smiled. I said, 'I am willing.' I explained that the Lord wanted this young lady to be sealed to me to carry on in her training, even to witness great things in the Lord," Jeffs said in a July 27, 2006, dictation in which he said Jessop married a 12-year-old daughter to Jeffs.

Affidavits filed by child welfare workers claim evidence of at least 10 underage marriages. The girls range in age from 12 to 16, CPS said. In the July 2006 dictation, Jeffs also sealed a 15-year-old girl to Merril Leroy Jessop, 33, who was indicted last month by a Schleicher County grand jury on a sexual assault charge, as well as bigamy. Another indicted man, Raymond Merril Jessop, 36, is also alleged to have married a 15-year-old girl.

The Texas Attorney General's Office has refused to comment on any of its cases or the grand jury proceedings, which resume Aug. 21. The Texas Department of Public Safety will not say much about its ongoing investigation.

"I am not able to say anything about any evidence that has been filed with the court, or about the grand jury proceedings," spokeswoman Tela Mange said in a recent e-mail to the Deseret News.

Beyond the marriage allegations, the evidence seized from the YFZ Ranch gives a glimpse of Jeffs' life as a fugitive.

"I was anxious to get ready to leave at 5:00 p.m., getting our mail bag ready and shredding everything we could that we would not take with us of the letters from the family," he said in an Oct. 5, 2005, dictation. "I delivered to Brother Merril Jessop, sending Isaac with a package, $200,580."

Jeffs attends to church business in the dictations, including the building of the FLDS' first-ever temple in Eldorado and ongoing "persecution" by the government.

"The Lord has warned me that my enemies in the government and among the apostates are searching for me, wanting to take my life," he said in an April 18, 2005, dictation. Jeffs later says the Lord told him the government hired two assassins to either capture or kill him.

At the time, Jeffs was being sought by law enforcement after being charged in Utah with rape as an accomplice, accused of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

"We hope and pray we can see you soon and enjoy the blessings of heaven awaiting the faithful," a 14-year-old girl alleged to have been married to Jeffs wrote in a letter addressed to "Dearest Warren Sweetheart." Photos of Jeffs kissing the girl in 2006 on their first anniversary were included in court papers.

"I want to be ready when your arms welcome me to your warm embrace and our kiss be long and sweet!! I love you. Your wife Eternally," she wrote.

Jeffs, 52, who was later elevated to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, was arrested in August 2006 in a traffic stop outside Las Vegas. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to five years to life on the Utah charges and is currently in an Arizona jail facing charges there.

While being slipped into child custody cases, the hundreds of boxes and thousands of pages of seized evidence is still being challenged in court. Lawyers for FLDS leaders are seeking to have it either thrown out or restricted, arguing that it was illegally seized in the April raid and much of it is privileged communications between Jeffs and his followers.


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