By: Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer John Floyd and Senior Paralegal Billy Sinclair
In July 2008 a Schleicher County grand jury indicted five members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, on sexual assault of children charges and a sixth member for failure to report a child abuse charge.
On August 20, 2008 the same grand jury indicted two additional FLDS members on sexual assault of children charges and added an additional charge of bigamy against Warren Jeffs.
This litany of criminal charges stem from allegations that some male FLDS members engaged in “spiritual marriages” with underage teenage girls. Records from Texas’ Child Protective Services indicate the agency is investigating 10 cases involving marriages of girls ranging in ages from 12 to 16 while the Texas Rangers are investigating as many as 20 cases of sexual assault and 50 cases of bigamy. The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is presenting the FLDS case to the grand jury, will only say that the case remains under investigation.
The Texas Ranger investigation is being led by Captain L.C. Wilson. He replaced Ranger Captain Barry Caver who supposedly retired in June to take a job in the oil industry. Caver was in charge of the military-style raid on the FLDS compound in Eldorado last April that triggered “the FLDS case.” Five of the 17 Rangers now under Wilson’s supervision are working full-time on the case. Attorney General Greg Abbott has not disclosed how many of his staff are involved in the investigation and prosecution of the case. As we reported in a previous column, the case has already cost Texas taxpayers at least $12 million dollars.
On the inside cover page of the “City&State” section of the Houston Chronicle (August 26, 2008), there were two news reports about five murders in Harris County – four of them occurring over the past weekend. It would seem that those five Rangers working full time on the FLDS case could more effectively serve the interest of law enforcement by assisting in the apprehension of the suspects involved in those five murder cases instead of investigating the religious practice of older men having consensual sex with teenage girls.
Once again the FLDS case begs perspective. Until 2005, a 14 year old girl in the Texas could marry an older man with the consent of her parents. The law was changed in 2005, directly in response to the establishment of the FLDS’ Texas compound, raising the age for teenage marriage with parental consent to 16. While the former “spiritual marriages” practiced by the FLDS were perhaps not socially acceptable, they were in keeping with traditional parental consent marriages in Texas. Whether the marriage itself was performed by an FLDS minister as a “spiritual marriage” or by a Baptist minister pursuant to a marriage license issued by a local clerk of court, the marriages apparently were conducted with parental consent.
Of the 23 most educated nations in the world, America has the highest infant mortality rate of them all. More infants die as a result of what is known as “infant mortality” than by all the other causes of deaths to children in this nation combined. Most of the infant deaths are due to lack of proper prenatal care for unwed teenage and pre-teenage mothers – most of whom are poor, African American or Hispanic girls. Several years ago the Texas Department of State Health Services reported that “the infant mortality rate is a measure of the overall health of a community. High infant mortality rates may indicate poor maternal health, inadequate prenatal care, infant malnutrition and/or limited access to adequate health care.”
Infant mortality has become a silent plague in this country – and it is being contributed by consensual and un-consensual sex with impoverished, under aged girls, sometimes by male family members and older men. Where are the Texas Rangers, CPS, the Attorney General’s Office, and social “do-gooders” so actively involved in the FLDS case in these kinds of infant mortality cases involving unwed, underage teenage girls? How many infant deaths would have been prevented by the more than $12 million already spent on the FLDS case? How many the fathers of these dead infants could have been indicted and prosecuted had the investigative man hours dedicated by the Texas Rangers and the Attorney General’s Office in the FLDS case been directed at them?
This nation, this state faces far more pressing social crises than the FLDS case. This is not about protecting children from being either sexually or physically abused by older men. None of the FLDS members – mothers, fathers, or children – appear to be cooperating with the massive law enforcement witch hunt being waged against them. They simply want to live in peace among themselves and worship God as they see and believe in him.
If there were children raped in the compound, the law should be followed and the perpetrators prosecuted appropriately. But the manner in which this investigation has been handled is offensive to our Constitution and the rule of law. How many innocent families were terrorized during this military raid and seizure of women and children?
In the wake of the military-style raid on their compound and the legal and social controversy it has stirred, the church has renounced “spiritual marriages.” It is time for the State of Texas to renounce the law enforcement vendetta being waged against the church.
Before all is said and done, the investigation and prosecution of the FLDS case could cost Texas taxpayers between $20 and $30 million dollars. That will be the cost to fund the war by the State against the FLDS Church. And make no mistake about it, this is a war being waged by the State of Texas against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.