On the EDge: Odds stacked against those fleeing polygamy

OPINION – You can check out, but can you ever really leave?

If you’re talking about the Eagles’ Hotel California, a stint in rehab might work, but if you are talking about the polygamist cult community along the Utah-Arizona state line, the odds are against you, even on those rare occasions when the cops get involved.

A recent story in the Salt Lake Tribune by polygamy beat reporter Nate Carlisle about a man who tried to rescue his underage daughter from the clutches of this group explains just how complicated it is to leave the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

A sinner, it seems, would have better odds of escaping from one of Dante’s nine circles of hell.

Carlisle’s in-depth reporting goes into great detail about how Ron Rohbock tried to rescue his daughter, who he was separated from 11 years ago when he was kicked out of the fundamentalist Mormon church and was recently reunited with, only to have her snatched back by the group in what he describes as a brazen daylight kidnapping from a parking lot in Mesquite.

It’s a story with no end, however.

We don’t know who is caring for the child, and, remember, at 17, she is still a child. We don’t know where she is staying. Is she hidden in some remote corner of the desert near Short Creek or has she been taken away to one of the FLDS compounds in Pringle, S.D., Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada, one of the outposts in rural Colorado, or even Mexico, where the FLDS has established several communities? We don’t know if she has been placed in marriage with an older man, like many girls her age and younger in the FLDS culture.

We also don’t know why the State of Utah, when its officers found the girl reportedly living in a travel trailer in Short Creek and surviving, according to the story, on a box of food delivered to her by a priesthood caretaker once a week, didn’t do more to protect her.

As a minor, there is plenty the state could have done, beginning with placing her into the care of child welfare workers while custody was determined. They could have pursued charges against whoever took her from that parking lot because she is, after all, a minor and she was transported across state lines.

But, this is what happens when you live in a theocracy where state officials seem to have difficulty in unraveling themselves from the roots of the predominant religion.

Utah endured two attorneys general who made public policy of refusing to prosecute the state’s bigamy/polygamy statutes. How those guys continued to be elected baffles me. Of course now we know that those two men, Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, are facing multiple criminal charges in unrelated matters.

We hear a lot of lip-service from well-meaning progressives these days who labor under the misguided idea that whatever happens between two consenting adults is nobody’s business. I would wholeheartedly agree, except the thing is, this is clearly not consenting adults. The girl is 17 and was younger when this all began to unravel. The so-called progressives have no concept of the context of polygamy as practiced by these fundamentalists, which extends far beyond closed bedroom doors.

We also hear a lot of lip-service from the people of this state who claim that children are their first priority, yet do nothing to ensure the safety of the little girls trapped in this culture, who are the unwilling, duped pawns in a game of sexual perversion and fraud.

We also learned last week from the Eldorado Success, the newspaper from the town where the FLDS built its Yearning for Zion Ranch, that the Texas State Board of Pardons and Paroles has approved Frederick Merril Jessop, a 79-year-old former FLDS bishop, for parole.

Jessop was convicted by a Coke County, Texas jury in November of 2011 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for performing an unlawful wedding ceremony when a jury found that he presided over the 2006 wedding of his own 12-year-old daughter to FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, who was later found guilty of sexual assault against the 12-year-old and a 15-year-old girl whom he also took as one of his scores of spiritual wives.

Part of the evidence against Jeffs was a horrific audio tape of the young girl weeping as he ordered her to take off her clothes, then proceeded to sexually assault her.

Our friend, private investigator Sam Brower, who has chased the FLDS for decades, was distraught over the news.

Merril Jessop is without a doubt one of the most despicable, vile human beings to grace the earth,” he said in a Facebook post after the news of Jessop’s early pardon was announced. “Despite his early parole, Frederick Merril Jessop, has repeatedly committed the most inconceivable crime a parent could commit against his own child – knowingly turn them over to the perverse whims of a serial pedophile. I have counted at least 11 of Merril Jessop’s daughters being turned over to Warren Jeffs, many of whom were underage and at least two not even teenagers yet.”

We agree with Sam and we are disappointed because we thought Texas would do a better job of administering justice.

Our only hope is that the board does a better job when Jeffs comes up for parole on July 22, 2038.

The board will hopefully rule that Jeffs should never take another free breath again, that he remains firmly ensconced in the Texas prison system, a victim of his own device, never to check out, never to leave.

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, StGeorgeUtah.com Inc., 2015, all rights reserved.

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  • My Evil Twin February 10, 2015 at 10:35 am

    This whole thing is just sickening. Thank you Ed for this article! Looks like the officials in Texas were gotten to by FLDS. I wonder if the payoff was in cash, or in sex with underage girls.

  • NotSoFast February 10, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Good article Ed.
    I fine it sad when folks read a reality piece on perverted human nature, nod their head in agreement then put the facts aside and go back to eating their cornflakes. It’s like they say to themselves, someone else should do something about that. Pass the orange juice please.
    note: The Eagles Hotel California song is one of my true favorites.

  • anybody home February 10, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    It’s pretty darned hard for a member of the mainstream Mormon church to check out of the hotel, too, Ed. It took almost ten years for my mother and me to be “released” (aka ex-communicated) after my mother made the request when I was 14, and then only after countless letters, phone calls, “home visits,” veiled threats, and what can only be called intimidation over the years. That said, the situation described here is the ugliest kind of extension of this apparent need/desire? to hold onto anyone who comes within range. What goes on at Short Creek and other polygamist locations is clearly a violation of law if underage girls are involved. How it has so long been allowed to continue is beyond a reasonable person’s imagination. Is this part of the “live and let live” attitude so prevalent in Utah? If the Mormon men who run this state are unwilling to do anything for these girls, I’d like to see a band of women take things into their own hands and get this mess cleaned up. Utah might be proud of its parks and canyons, but it should be deeply ashamed of what happens in polygamist compounds.

    • Roy J February 13, 2015 at 5:42 pm

      I agree wth that, ANYBODY. The intimidation that wafts from the majority in the ‘predominant’ religion is simply astonishing.

  • Carl February 11, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Wow! Wow! Man I grew up there and it just stuns me to see people you thought we’re good People actually turn out to be monsters. I’m so glad I left when I did!! Here’s the thing, it’s no longer a religion. It’s a cult, the state says it a cult, courts says it’s a cult, hell everyone says it a cult!! With that being said why not just end the so called cult? Go take all the kids and put them with family’s that can do good by them, tell all the adults to pull there heads out and just deal with it!! I mean they have no clue what unconditional love is to there children. They do not do what best for there children, they do NOT have there best interest at heart! They say they “love” there children but it’s misplaced love. I’m so grateful I grew up in a family that taught us what it means to be a family, that family comes 1st no matter what. I was closer to my family more than the religion, and I know that’s how my family felt towards each other. The one thing that always bothered me was that it felt like we had to warship the “prophet” more than God. I was 14 when I left that place. Merrell Jessop Son married my oldest sister so I knew the Jessop’s as a kid. When the Texas compound raid happened thats when I found out that my bother in law had married an underage girl and was sentenced to 10 years I believe, could be wrong. I couldn’t believe it, always taught he wouldn’t go there. I hope someone important and has power reads this. I beg you as a ex polygamist Stop waisting money trying to up hold there rights as religious people and just end the suffering out there. It’s a cult so treat it as such. I’ve seen to many families torn apart all in the name of a prophet or leader or caretaker! The God I grew up with would never put anyone through what I’ve seen. It’s no longer about “God” it’s about doing the right thing, and there are thousands of children just waiting for someone to step up and do what’s best for them.

  • Brenda February 12, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Ed, another great article. Thank you. I agree with all four of the above comments and, yes, I am very disappointed that Texas released Merril Jessop. He should have been made to serve the full term. As for Warren, I doubt if he will still be alive in 2038, so I doubt there is any chance of him being released back into society. I used to work in the correctional and criminal justice systems, so I am aware that there are certain laws that mush be upheld, viz a viz parole release requirements, and also protecting the safety of high profile inmates. However, as Janey Q. Public, I sure wish that the rules could be bent. For example, how great it would be should Warren be housed in the general population in Palestine. I don’t think he’d last till 2018.

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