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Update On The FLDS Custody Hearing Regarding the Children of the YFZ Ranch

By Susan Duclos     Apr 18, 2008 in Lifestyle
In keeping up with the testimony that Judge Barbara Walther is presiding over, we see that the first witness for the state was a child protective supervisor who was at the YFZ Ranch and was crucial to helping make the decision to remove the 416 children.
In a piece done yesterday at Digital Journal.com, updates throughout the day were supplied about the hearing that is being held in Texas regarding the custody of 416 children that were removed from the FLDS polygamist Yearning for Zion Ranch.
A quick recap shows that the state's case and the raid was not based on one phone call reporting abuse at the ranch,as was previously reported and as the lawyers for the fathers were claiming in court, this is evidenced by Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, when he said, "the case really doesn't hinge upon that particular 16-year-old", he goes on to add, "Once investigators, in good faith, go into the compound and determine whether or not there was any kind of wrongdoing; the case is on its own after that."
That is a good thing for the state because recent news shows that someone has been arrested for placing a false report to the police although no confirmation has been given from the authorities at this time as to whether it stems from this particular case, circumstantial evidence certainly points that way.
You can read the original updates from throughout yesterday yourself at the link above.
Today we see that the first witness for the state was Angie Voss, a supervisor from child protective services that describes the conditions in which they tried to hold interviews with the children at the Ranch before making the determination to remove them.
She testified that case workers wanted to conduct the interviews in a place that didn't seem "so scary and dangerous."
Voss was on the stand for six of the eleven hours that day one consisted of, in that testimony it is revealed that a witness from the Warren Jeff trial which resulted in his conviction, of two counts of rape as an accomplice for forcing young girls to marry older men at his FLDS's compounds, was pivotal in convincing authorities to raid the YFZ Ranch.
Warren Jeff was the leader, the "prophet" of the YFZ Ranch compound before his conviction in 2007 and is awaiting trial in Arizona on similar charges.
Voss revealed she had consulted with a former FLDS member, named Rebecca Musser, as well as seeking professional opinion of psychiatrist Bruce Perry, a well-known expert on cults.
"I consulted child psychologists and other persons who are much more educated and aware of their beliefs than I am," said Voss, referring to Musser and Perry. "They (FLDS faithful) get direction from Warren Jeffs and whatever he says, they will do."
Musser was married to Jeffs' father, Rulon Jeffs, when she was a teenager and he was an elderly man. During the Warren Jeffs trial, Musser testified that Jeffs told her he would "take me down" if she caused problems for the FLDS Church. Her testimony is credited with helping convict Jeffs.
Musser is the older sister of Elissa Wall, who was the key witness in the Waren Jeff trial after speaking up to authorities about being forced to marry when she was 14. Musser also testified in the Warren Jeff trial.
Among documents that were obtained after police got a search warrant, was a list called a "bishop's list", and when that list was presented as evidence, the lawyers for the fathers and mothers, objected, citing clergy-parishioner religious privilege, but the judge overruled those objections saying there would be time for those issues, but this case was specifically to decide whether the children could go back to the compound.
"The church is not in front of the court today," Walther admonished. "The parents and children are (here) today."
"The church is its people," Edwards replied. "The church is not a building."
Walther overruled.
"The court does not intend to rule about someone's religious practices or their freedom of religion," she said. "What I'm trying to get to is whether these children should be returned to their parents."
That document contained a list of names, men and "wives", one of which showed one man had 22 wives, and at least 10 of those "wives" in that document were younger than 17 or had children listed with ages that placed conception at younger than 17.
One of the most troubling statements from the child protection investigator was when testimony was given that girls at the YFZ Ranch were forced into marriage and gave birth as young as 13.
Voss also testified of a 14 year old that was pregnant and a number of 15 year olds that were pregnant as well.
When Voss was asked point blank if in her professional opinion the children should be returned to the compound, she said she did not because "the sect members do not believe they are doing anything wrong."
What the state's case seems to hinge on is, in their eyes, the compound is one large household, and that "home" is a dangerous environment, especially for underage girls, who if returned would be at imminent risk of being sexually abused.
One of the determining factors that made the CPS believe that the YFZ Ranch, in effect, was simply one large "home", was from some of the initial interviews with girls at the compound, where when asked about their ages and parents, some girls said they didn't know their birth dates or who lived in their homes, according to Voss.
In what will surely be another chaotic day in the court room, the hearing for custody of 416 children, removed from the YFZ Ranch, continues today.
[Update] In this first update news of further testimony from Ms. Voss shows that one minor was pregnant and four had children.
As the Melbourne Herald Sun head lines a piece discussing this, "Girls 'bred' to be assaulted":
THE children taken from a secretive polygamist sect were not safe because their parents had beliefs that turned "boys into perpetrators and girls into sexual assault victims", a custody hearing was told.
According to The Press Association, the states wants to keep the children in its custody, and move them foster homes while they continue investigating abuse allegations.
The only requirement the state has is they must show the judge that the children, is 1) that children had been physically or sexually abused or 2) that if returned to the compound, they would be in imminent danger of being physically or sexually abused.
No decision has been made regarding the fate of the children as of yet.
[Update #2] Questions have been asked about why no criminal charges have been filed against the men that impregnated the teenage girls and The Salt Lake Tribune has a portion in an article that explains this:
Authorities may try to build a criminal case from the evidence gathered, but can't look at any of it until a special master appointed by Walther gives the go-ahead.
The reason Walther is keeping that evidence under wraps and appointing a special master, is so that person appointed can determine what portion of the documents and evidence fall under lawyer/client or privilege versus what can be used in an investigation or to file charges.
[Update #3] As more testimony as evidence is introduced today, ABC reported that more than 20 teenage girls were impregnated at the ages of 16 and 17.
Relying on the interviews and records taken from the sect's compound, Voss told the court that more than 20 of the girls either conceived or gave birth before they were 16 or 17. "There is a culture of young girls being pregnant by older men," Voss testified under cross examination.
While on the stand Thursday, Voss said that girls from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had told child welfare interviewers that there is "no age too young to be married and they wanted to have as many babies as they could."
Another report by channel 8 news brings up a different aspect, which focuses on the overall environment and not just the young girls being impregnated while underage.
Dr. Bruce Perry, who interviewed several of the children says that one of the risks to the children at the YFZ Ranch is the "inability to develop healthy relationships or to make their own decisions – resulting in, for example, 15-year-olds with the emotional capacities of six-year-olds."
The judge has set a cut off time of 4pm for testimony so that she could begin to deliberate on her decision as to whether to give the state custody of the 416 children.
Information is not available as to whether the option of letting the younger children, under 4, go back to the compound pending visits from CPS workers to make sure they aren't in imminent danger, is on the table or not, or if this is an all or nothing decision the judge is making.
[Update #4] It seems that attorneys for some of the parents might have a compromise for dealing with a portion of the children, at least some of them whose parents show a willingness to do as the attorney suggests.
The mid-morning legal proceedings featured questions by one attorney that hinted some of the mothers would be willing to follow whatever court order necessary to regain custody of their children.
"One of your concerns is that they have a mindset. What do they have to do to prove they are amenable to counseling services?" said an attorney questioning Angie Voss, the supervisor.
What if, the attorney went on, her clients were willing to get an apartment, obtain a restraining order against the FLDS husbands or fathers, and would only allow the men to have supervised visitation?
Although it is a matter of law and the judge holds the ultimate decision making powers for the moment, this seems to be a compromise that would unite some of the parents with their children and keep the children out of the environment that the child protective services seems thinks puts the kids at risk.
This also shows that some of the mothers are willing to undergo counseling to understand that sex with minors is not appropriate and is against the law and that the mothers considering this are willing to put the best interest of their child ahead of all else.
[Update #5] Possible Canada connection and the state has asked that DNA be taken from all of the children and their alleged parents to help determine biological connections. The judge has not ruled on that request.
[Update #6]- Troubling testimony from Bruce Perry, senior fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy. He maintains that there are no good solutions here. He asserts that returning the children to the ranch would be detrimental.
The troubling thing is that although he recommends the children stay in state custody, "because they are either victims of sexual assault, potential victims of sexual assault or potential perpetrators."
State facilities are not set up for these particular children's needs either.
When asked which option would be best for the children — a return to the ranch, placement in the foster system or remaining in the coliseum where they are now — he said none were acceptable.
That is a problem that the state will need to address if the judge decides to award them custody. These children have special needs because of how they have been raised, testimony by experts has already said they are not developed mentally to the normal level of other children their age.
The infants are the least vulnerable if they are sent back because there has been no evidence that prepubescent girls are abused at the compound.
The judge is not in an enviable position having to make this type of decision for so many children.
[Update #7] Judge awards temporary 60 day custody of all 416 children to the state.
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