Texas authorities on Tuesday indicted the leader of a polygamous sect and four of his followers on charges of felony sexual assault on a minor, the first criminal charges to stem from a massive raid on the group’s West Texas compound in April.
The indictments were handed down late in the afternoon in San Angelo after a grand jury hearing. According to a statement by Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, they contain nine counts against a total of six individuals.
Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet and leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was the only one named. Convicted last year of being an accomplice to the rape of a child bride in Utah, he is currently in prison in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges there.
He is already serving a sentence of five years to life for the Utah crimes.
Abbott’s statement says four additional people face charges of sexual assault against girls younger than 17 and that one of those faces a bigamy charge. Another person faces three charges of failure to report child abuse.
The names of those defendants will not be released until after they are served with the indictments, authorities said.
The charges follow a controversial raid by Texas authorities in April on the sect’s walled ranch in the town of El Dorado.
Child protective services workers seized more than 400 children, contending they were at risk of abuse because of the sect’s belief in divinely inspired polygamous marriages to underage girls.
An attorney for the sect, which has been disavowed by the mainstream Mormon Church, did not return a call for comment.
The Texas Supreme Court in May ruled that the state had overstepped its authority in taking the children, and it ordered that they be returned to their parents. State workers are still trying to separate individual children from some families, saying the children remain at risk.
During the raid, authorities discovered material they have long hinted could lead to criminal charges, including graphic photos of Jeffs kissing an underage bride.
Flora Jessop, a former FLDS member who fled a forced marriage to her cousin as a teenager, said Tuesday that the indictments might keep other polygamous groups from following the practices of FLDS but that it would have limited impact on the breakaway Mormon sect, which is headquartered on the Utah-Arizona border.
“The FLDS believes that every one of these guys is going to be martyrs, that God is giving them this thing to do,” Jessop said.