EL DORADO, Texas – A west Texas grand jury investigating allegations that members of a polygamist sect sexually abused girls indicted three more people Tuesday, raising the number of defendants in the case to nine.
Each of the sect members indicted Tuesday by the Schleicher County grand jury was charged with sexual assault of a child, and two face an additional charge of bigamy, state Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement. Abbott's office has taken over prosecution of the case from local authorities in the tiny county.
The names of those charged were not immediately released, but none had been charged previously. The grand jury earlier had indicted six other members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, including jailed sect leader Warren Jeffs.
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The grand jury has now met three times to consider evidence against residents of the Yearning For Zion Ranch, which is run by the FLDS, a breakaway Mormon sect.
All but one of those indicted has been charged with sexual abuse of a child, and some also have been charged with bigamy. The sect's doctor has been charged only with three misdemeanor counts of failure to report child abuse.
Authorities raided the YFZ Ranch in April looking for evidence of underage marriages and abuse involving sect girls. Texas child welfare authorities initially put all 440 children at the ranch in foster care but were forced to return them by a Texas Supreme Court ruling that found evidence showed abuse in only a handful of cases.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, but numerous documents and photos disclosed as part of a separate child custody case show girls, some as young as 12, purportedly married to middle-aged men.
Generally under Texas law, no one younger than 17 can consent to sex with an adult.
The state's bigamy statute includes prohibitions against legally marrying or even purporting to marry more than one person. Many of the FLDS unions are so-called "spiritual" marriages, unions blessed by the church but with no legal record.
The FLDS believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven. The Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
Jeffs, convicted in Utah last year as an accomplice to rape for the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her older cousin, awaits trial in Arizona on similar charges.