West Texas Polygamist Ranch Leader Indicted - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: newswest9.com |

West Texas Polygamist Ranch Leader Indicted

Staff Report
The Associated Press

ELDORADO, Texas (AP) - The 72-year-old presiding elder of a polygamist Mormon sect in West Texas and two other church members surrendered today.

They're free on bond over felony charges relating to the underage marriage of girls to older men.

Frederick "Merril" Jessop is a leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Jessop faces one count of conducting an unlawful marriage ceremony involving a minor.
One of his daughters was allegedly married to jailed sect leader Warren Jeffs at 12.

She's now the only child from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in foster care after her mother refused to cooperate with child welfare authorities.

A grand jury in Eldorado on Nov. 12 indicted Jessop, Jeffs and two other members of FLDS.

Jeffs, convicted in Utah and awaiting trial in Arizona on charges related to underage marriages of sect girls, faces charges in Texas of sexual assault of a child and bigamy.

FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop calls it: "harassment."

The two other men who turned themselves in are:
- Wendell Loy Nielsen, who's 68, and charged with three counts of bigamy. The indictment includes few details, but church records released as part of a separate child custody case list 21 women married to Nielsen in August 2007.
- Leroy Johnson Steed, who's 42, is charged with sexual assault of a child, bigamy and tampering with evidence. Church records show Steed married to a 16-year-old girl in March 2007.

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