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Jury hears FLDS witnesses

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Teresa Jeffs, the last FLDS member to be called into court on Wednesday, kills time by climbing a tree outside the courthouse.

Teresa Jeffs, the last FLDS member to be called into court on Wednesday, kills time by climbing a tree outside the courthouse.

Pat Reavy, Deseret News

ELDORADO, Texas — A grand jury looking into alleged crimes involving members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church convened here Wednesday, taking testimony from polygamous sect members but not handing up any indictments.

The Schleicher County grand jury is expected to meet again next month.

Eight women and girls from the ranch, including 16-year-old Teresa Jeffs and her mother, Annette, were seen at the courthouse, although not all were subpoenaed to testify. Most, however, were called one-by-one inside the building throughout the afternoon. In addition, an unknown number of law enforcers were reportedly subpoenaed to testify.

"I don't want to do it," Teresa Jeffs said outside of court prior to her testimony. "It's weird."

Jeffs, the daughter of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, entered the courthouse at 3:50 p.m. local time and left about 4:35 p.m. When asked by reporters whether she testified before the grand jury, she turned and smiled and then was escorted into a waiting vehicle.

San Antonio attorney Alan Futrell was with Jeffs outside the courthouse Wednesday and said he now represents her on criminal matters. Futrell said it was his understanding that the grand jury would reconvene on July 22. He also said law enforcers were very fair with his client and the other FLDS women Wednesday and treated them compassion.

"Nobody was held in contempt. Everybody seemed to be doing their job with minimal pretentiousness," he said. "Everyone is trying to be sensitive. We have every issue in the world here: faith, family, Constitution."

Futrell said he did not know if the grand jury was investigating anyone specifically.

"I don't have any clue who they're looking at," he said.

Although grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret, this hearing has been anything but — thanks in part to the legal tug-of-war between Jeffs and her court-appointed attorney ad litem, Natalie Malonis. Jeffs wants Malonis removed as her attorney and has been vocal about her displeasure at Malonis for having a restraining order filed barring FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop from having contact with the young woman.

Malonis spent the entire day in court and left without commenting to reporters.

Yellow police tape was placed around the entire court complex, which sits in the middle of a park on the same block where the Schleicher County Sheriff's Office and other government buildings are. News media were kept far away from anyone going in or out of the courthouse. A Deseret News reporter was even confronted by deputies, asked for ID and photographed.

"I can't say a thing," said San Angelo attorney Brad Haralson, who represents several mothers, as he walked to his car. "I don't know if there's really a schedule. They're just doing it. No agenda was sent out to anybody."

Jeffs, who was the last FLDS member to be called inside Wednesday, tried to kill time at one point by climbing one of the large trees on the courthouse square in her dark blue prairie-style dress. She got as high as the third story courthouse window when the sheriff encouraged her to climb down.

Acting on a call from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl, Texas child welfare workers and law enforcement went to the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch on April 3. Once there, authorities said they saw other signs of abuse, prompting a judge to order all of the children removed from the property.

Texas Child Protective Services alleged a pattern of abuse on the YFZ Ranch, with girls groomed to become child brides and boys growing up to become sexual perpetrators. Many of the state's claims have not proved to be true, including allegations of pregnant teenagers and abused children. The original call that sparked the raid is still being investigated as a hoax.

Texas CPS's case imploded when Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state acted improperly in removing all of the children. The 440 children were returned to their parents after weeks in foster care facilities scattered across the Lone Star state.

The child welfare investigation continues, as does a criminal investigation.

Law enforcement served a series of search warrants and seized nearly 1,000 boxes of evidence from the ranch. Some of that evidence includes lists of families, children and other documents. A now-notorious photograph has also been made public that shows FLDS leader Warren Jeffs kissing a 12-year-old girl in a manner that Texas child welfare lawyers described as "how a husband kisses a wife."

Beyond the Schleicher County grand jury, a federal investigation is under way. Also, a coalition of law enforcement from Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Texas recently met in Las Vegas to discuss crimes within polygamous communities — specifically, the FLDS Church.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com; bwinslow@desnews.com