Today, in San Angelo. The Standard-Times has more, including video of lawyers discussing several recent FLDS trials. Three convictions and one guilty plea have so far resulted from the indictments arising out of Texas’ raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch outside Eldorado; this is the harshest sentence to date.
SAN ANGELO, Texas — In the harshest sentence yet for members of a Texas polygamist group, a Tom Green County jury has sentenced Merril Leroy Jessop, 35, to 75 years in prison and imposed a $10,000 fine on one count of sexual assault of a child.
The jury deliberated on the sentence from 10:30 a.m. today until 2:35 p.m.
The Tom Green County jurors took just under an hour on Wednesday to convict Jessop, whose sentence could have been as much as 99 years in prison. He must serve at least half the allotted time before he can be considered for parole. Lawyers for the cult member claimed imprisoning him would waste tax dollars, and the lead defense attorney suggested that the evidence used to convict Jessop had been illegally obtained in 2008 when the State of Texas raided the Schleicher County compound in response to a telephone call from a woman claiming to be an underage, and unwilling, victim of sexual abuse at the ranch.
The call came from Colorado. More than 400 children were taken from the ranch during the raid; all were later ordered returned to the custody of members of the church. The FLDS practices polygamy (Jessop has three wives) and teaches that men must have at least three wives to reach heaven.
One of the prosecuting attorneys, Wes Mau, began the closing arguments for the punishment phase with a focus on deterrence.
“Deterrence requires a price that’s too high. We set them high enough so that people don’t want to pay that price,” Mau said.
Mau recalled how Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran went to the ranch with a Texas law book to show the residents what they were not supposed to do.
Jessop’s offense occurred after Doran’s visit.
“Merril Leroy Jessop’s violation was flagrant and open,” Mau said. “They ignored Sheriff Doran.”
Mau said rehabilitation for Jessop would be ineffective.
“This defendant doesn’t think what he has done is wrong. He thinks it’s a part of the path of salvation,” Mau said.
Mau said the absence of choice offered the girl, who he said was being brought up to be abused, makes her case “the most insidious form of child abuse.”
The Salt Lake Tribune also carried coverage of the sentencing result:
Under Texas law, Jessop has to serve half of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.
The jury deliberated about four hours, according to the San Angelo Standard-Times , before deciding on Jessop’s sentence. Jurors also imposed a $10,000 fine.
Jessop is the third man to be convicted by a Texas jury on sexual assault charges related to underage marriages authorized by FLDS leader Warren S. Jeffs and performed at the sect’s Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado.
Raymond Merril Jessop, a brother, received a 10-year sentence, and Allan Keate received a 33-year sentence. A fourth man, Michael Emack, received a seven-year sentence in a plea agreement.
Juries in the Merril Leroy Jessop and Allan Keate cases were allowed to apply an enhanced sentence of up to 99 years because their crimes occurred after 2005, when the Texas Legislature modified the state’s sexual assault law.