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".

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine