Judge orders genetic tests for members of polygamous sect

All 416 youngsters taken from the Mormon splinter group are to remain in the care of the state until DNA sampling determines how they are related

The 416 children taken from a ranch run by a polygamous sect will stay in state custody and, along with their parents, be subject to genetic testing to determine their relationships, a judge has ruled.

Child welfare officers said that after this adult mothers with children aged four and under, who had been allowed to stay together, would be separated from their children. Only mothers aged under 18 will be permitted to remain with their offspring.

The rulings came after Judge Barbara Walther at the district court in San Angelo, Texas, heard 21 hours of testimony over two days in one of the largest and most convoluted custody cases in US history. The genetic testing was ordered after child welfare officials told the court they were having difficulty determining how the children and adults were related because of evasive or changing answers. A mobile genetic lab will take DNA samples tomorrow at the main shelter where children are being kept, and parents will be able to submit samples on Tuesday in Eldorado, closer to the Yearning for Zion Ranch in west Texas.

The ranch was raided on 3 April after someone identifying herself as a 16-year-old girl with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which operates the ranch, claimed her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her. Hundreds of children were taken from the the Mormon splinter group's compound. The judge summed up the hearing in one line: "The issue before the court is – can I give them back?"

The scale of the case meant defence lawyers queued up in the court's aisles to take turns asking their questions. But the judge was able to exercise more control over the mass custody hearing than on Thursday, when the case descended into chaos, mainly due to hundreds of lawyers competing for clients.

Experts for the state had told the court that the girls entered into under-age marriages without resistance because they were indoctrinated from birth to believe disobedience would lead to damnation. A psychiatrist, Dr Bruce Perry, an authority on children in cults, said the sect's belief system was "abusive". "The culture is authoritarian," he said.

But under cross-examination, he admitted that the sect mothers were loving parents and that there were no signs of abuse among younger girls or any of the boys. Dr Perry stated that the girls he interviewed said they freely chose to marry young, but he added that those choices were based on lessons drilled into them from birth. "Obedience is a very important element of their belief system. "Compliance is being godly; it's part of their honouring God." Dr Perry was applauded by dozens of FLDS parents when he admitted that the children would suffer if placed in traditional foster care.

John Walsh, a witness for the parents, told the court that a bed in the retreat's white temple was not used to consummate the marriages of under-age girls to much older men. "There is no sexual activity in the temple," he said. Instead, he said, it was used for naps during the sect's long services.

Mr Walsh also denied that the young girls had no say in who they would marry. "They're into matchmaking," he said of the sect. Girls who refused matches had not been expelled. "I believe the girls are given a real choice. Girls have successfully said 'No, this is not a good match for me', and they remained in good standing," he said.

The children were seized in the raid on the desert compound because of evidence of physical and sexual abuse, including the forcing of under-age girls into marriage and childbearing, the judge was told. Only a few of the children were teenage girls, but about 20 women or more gave birth when they were minors, some as young as 13, authorities said.

The Child Protective Services agency argued that the teachings of the FLDS – to marry shortly after puberty, have as many children as possible and obey their fathers or their prophet, imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs – amounted to abuse. Mr Jeffs is in prison for being an accomplice to rape and was convicted in Utah last year of forcing a 14-year-old into marrying an older man. Mr Walsh told the court that the sect did not promote under-age marriages until Jeffs took over as its "prophet".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkClue: You'll either love them or you'll hate them
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
News
newsIf you're India's Narendra Modi, it seems the answer is a pinstripe suit emblazoned with your own name
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project