Watch CBSN Live

Texas Polygamist Women Called "Pimps"

Jury selection is slated to begin Monday in the trial of the first of 12 male members of a Texas polygamist sect whose ranch state officials raided last year.

Raymond Jessop, of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was indicted after the April 2008 raid and pleaded not guilty to allegations including sexual assault, bigamy, and being married to underage girls.

The other eleven defendants are scheduled to be tried separately later this year.

The raid on the sprawling, 1,700-acre Yearning For Zion ranch made public the private practices of the polygamous religious order near Eldorado, observes CBS News Correspondent Don Teague.

Members of the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints share a belief in multiple wives, being self-sufficient and dressing modestly. But an anonymous phone call alleged the church also sanctioned underage marriage and child abuse.

Four-hundred-thirty-seven children were removed as a result of the raid, as authorities investigated the allegations. Eventually, the initial phone call was determined to be a hoax and all but five of the children were returned to their families.

Former polygamist Flora Jessop, who escaped the compound 15 years ago, worked with some of the children after they were taken from the ranch. She now lives in Phoenix with her husband and two kids. Raymond Jessop's father is her cousin, so Raymond is her second cousin.

Flora works to get other girls out, including her sister. She's also writing a book about the sect.

"Everyone (in the sect) views (Raymond) as a hero and martyr," she tells CBS News. "Being on trial has not and will not hurt his image at all. All 12 of these guys are viewed that way."

She told "The Early Show Saturday Edition" co-anchor Chris Wragge "it really doesn't" surprise her that the men are being put on trial, "because of the nature of the abuses that we've been talking about for years. And I'm just happy to see that they are going to trial. What I'm upset the most about, I think, is the fact that none of the women have been indicted, as well.

" ... I think that the women were nothing but pimps on that compound and giving their daughters over to these perverts knowing what was going to happen to them."

Flora added, "I think the nature of the abuse and the severity of the abuse is going to shock people. I spent a month in Texas in June, when I just traveled through the state, and I wanted to know firsthand what was discovered, and spoke with hundreds of CPS (Child Protective Service) caseworkers, and the sense I got was that the local CPS workers felt just as betrayed as the children, and (I) felt they just quit believing in the system, because they were told they couldn't protect these kids."

Flora predicted some of the allegations that will be made in the courtroom will be worse than what's come to light already "because of what I discovered in Texas."

In-Session/Court TV Correspondent Beth Karas, who's been covering the raid's aftermath, told Wragge prosecutors will initially have their work cut out for them. "The biggest hurdle is that they're gonna try to get a jury in the same community where this occurred. People know about this. It's widely publicized. So the big hurdle will be trying to seat a jury of 12 people who can put aside any opinions they have and knowledge they have of the case and just decide it on the evidence."

She said the charges are "very serious" and punishable by two-20 years in prison.

Karas said she thinks the trial will be "a bit of a spectacle, and they're prepared for it down there because they have a lot of security. They're really stepping up the whole process.

"What the jury's going to hear, though, my understanding (is), is DNA evidence establishing paternity and maternity, and they were not able to get DNA for a lot of these children to determine who belongs to whom. But for the men charged, I believe they have the evidence."

View CBS News In