Jury selection will begin in a Texas courtroom today in the trial of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs. He is charged with sexually assaulting two children while leading a breakaway sect of the Mormon church.
It all began with a raid nearly four years ago on a Texas compound when more than 400 children were seized from their parents amid allegations that girls as young as 14 were being forced into sex and marriage, CBS National Correspondent Ben Tracy reported.
In 2008, Marleigh Meisner of the Texas Department of Child Protective Services said, "A judge believed that we did have sufficient evidence that abuse or neglect occurred or there was imminent risk of harm to these children."
The compound was run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a radical offshoot of the Mormon church. It was led by Warren Jeffs. Followers called him, "the prophet." Jeffs preached that polygamy was the key to heaven. He reportedly had at least 58 wives.
The Mormon church has condemned the fundamentalist sect.
When Jeffs was first charged with illegally arranging marriages between men and under-aged girls, he disappeared and became one of the nation's most sought-after fugitives until authorities finally caught up with him in 2006.
Jeffs was tried in Utah. But last July, his conviction was overturned by Utah's Supreme Court because of faulty jury instructions. Jeffs is now being held without bail in Texas where seven other FLDS leaders have already been convicted. At the heart of each case is more than the beliefs of the church, Utah private investigator Sam Brower told CBS News program "48 Hours: Mystery."
Brower said, "I know the FLDS wants to make this about religion. They want to make it about polygamy. But that's not it. It's about child abuse. It's on a scale that's never been seen before in this country."
If convicted, Jeffs faces life in prison.
On "The Early Show," Flora Jessop a major critic of the FLDS group and an advocate for child victims of polygamy said much of the blame lies with the women in the sect.
Jessop says she escaped from Warren Jeffs' polygamist sect when she was 17 years old.
She told "Early Show" co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis, "While Warren Jeffs is on trial and he is being prosecuted; he greater perpetrators of these crimes are still not charged, and that is the mothers of these children."
Jessop added, "You couldn't have these crimes (that are) so institutionalized in this group, this cult, without the mothers handing their children over to these predators. ... Trying Warren Jeffs and convicting Warren Jeffs is great, and Texas has done a good job on convicting several of these men. But there's still hundreds of these guys standing in the wings waiting to step into the shoes of these guys, and unless the mothers are prosecuted and they have consequences for handing their 11-year-olds over to these guys to be raped and abused, the cycle of abuse will never stop. These mothers must understand they will go to prison if they continue to allow this to happen to their children."
When asked if the mothers are in any way victims, Jessop said she sees the mothers as part of a greater problem.
"They may have, at one time, been victimized by this same group," she said. "However, they're mothers now...and it's their job to protect their children. They have failed to do that. They smilingly hand their children over to these guys, and, you know, America needs to look past the Care Bear colored dresses and see the evil behind them."
Jessop said the FLDS sect is also paying for Jeffs' defense.
She said, "The people in Colorado City and Hilldale have recently been told to sell their vehicles, get rid of (anything extra) that they have and put the money towards his legal defense fund."
Nothing will change in the community, Jessop said, even if Jeffs goes to prison.
"It's great that he is going to trial. It's been a long time coming, but he has several brothers that are standing in the wings waiting to take over for him," she said. "While...Warren will continue to run the FLDS even from prison, he has got his brothers lined up to control things on the outside and maintain control of the people, but he will still be revered as a prophet."