Testimony begins in polygamist ex-bishop's trial

Testimony begins in polygamist ex-bishop's trial
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - 6:58pm

ROBERT LEE, Texas — A "sealing" ceremony performed by a polygamist ex-bishop between his leader, Warren Jeffs, and an underage girl differs from a marriage ceremony as defined by Texas law, the former bishop's attorney told a West Texas jury on Tuesday.

Fredrick Merril Jessop, 75, is charged with a felony count of performing an illegal 2006 wedding ceremony between Jeffs and an underage girl. The ceremony occurred at the Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado, owned by the Jeffs-led Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The FLDS holds polygamy as a fundamental belief and its men take multiple wives in what are termed "celestial marriages" in a ceremony called "sealing."

Rae Leifeste of San Angelo told jurors in her opening statement Tuesday that "sealing" is not a marriage ceremony as defined by Texas law, according to the San Angelo Standard-Times (http://bit.ly/uhYbn9).

Before Leifeste spoke, prosecutor Angel Goodwin laid out the prosecution case.

"The state will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that on July 27, 2006, Fredrick Merril Jessop married a freckled, 12-year-old girl to a 50-year-old man," he said.

If convicted, Jessop could be sentenced to two to 10 years in prison and fined up to $10,000.

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