Polygamist wedding officiant gets early release in Texas

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 11, 2015 6:20 PM

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS, Texas (Reuters) - Texas has granted an early parole to Fredrick Merril Jessop, a former polygamist bishop serving time for officiating at the marriage of his then 12-year-old daughter to sect leader Warren Jeffs, officials said on Wednesday.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole voted last month to release Jessop, 79, within 90 days from a West Texas prison, where he was scheduled to serve 10 years for the illegal wedding, spokesman Raymond Estrada said.

His initial release date had been set for December 2021.

Jeffs' polygamist sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which experts estimate has 10,000 followers in North America, has been condemned by the mainstream Mormon Church and is accused of promoting marriages between older men and underage girls.

Jeffs, 59, is serving a life term plus 20 years for his 2011 sexual assault conviction stemming from what the sect called "celestial marriages" to two underage girls at a compound in Texas.

During Jessop's trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing he had participated in 16 underage marriages and had 22 wives himself.

The FLDS, which broke off from the mainstream Mormon church in the early 20th century, holds polygamy as necessary to advance to the highest level of heaven.

FLDS men enter into what they call "celestial marriages" with multiple wives, in a process known as "sealing."

Jessop, then a bishop in the church, was in charge of running the sect's West Texas ranch near the small town of Eldorado when it was raided by state authorities and child protection officials in 2008.

State prosecutors said the marriage ceremony at the crux of his conviction had taken place on the ranch in 2006. The ranch began construction in 2003.

Jessop will be transferred to the state prison in Huntsville and will be released when his parole paperwork is completed, which can take up to 90 days. 

"As long as he stays out of trouble, he will be on parole until Nov. 4, 2021," Estrada said. If Jessop violates his parole conditions, however, he could be forced to finish out his prison sentence.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and G Crosse)