Forced Sex Alleged At Compound Temple

A law enforcement official is seen as members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sit along the covered porch of a structure at the groups temporary housing, Fort Concho National Historic Landmark, in San Angelo, Texas, Tuesday, April 8, 2008.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Young teenage girls at a polygamist compound in West Texas were required to have sex in a soaring white temple after they were married in sect-recognized unions, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.

The temple "contains an area where there is a bed where males over the age of 17 engage in sexual activity with female children under the age of 17," said an affidavit quoting a confidential informant who left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Agents found a bed in the temple with disturbed linens and what appeared to be a female hair, said the affidavit signed by Texas Ranger Leslie Brooks Long. The Rangers are the state's investigative law enforcement arm.

The temple also contained multiple locked safes, vaults and desk drawers that authorities sought access to as they searched for records showing alleged marriages of underage girls as young as 12 or 13 to older men and births among the teens. The affidavit unsealed Wednesday mentions a 16-year-old girl who has four children.

Texas law prohibits polygamy and the marriage of girls under 16.

Also Wednesday, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers completed a weeklong search of the 1,700-acre grounds, said spokeswoman Tela Mange.

Lawyers for the sect had wanted to cut off the wide-ranging search as it dragged on but agreed in court Wednesday to the appointment of a special master who will vet what is expected to be hundreds of boxes of records, computers and even family Bibles for records that should not become evidence for legal or religious reasons.

Attorneys for the church argued that a search of the 1,700-acre compound was unconstitutional, reports CBS News correspondent Hari Sreenivasan.

Gerry Goldstein, a San Antonio lawyer flanked by nine other attorneys the church hired, said the search of the temple is analogous to a law enforcement search of the Vatican or other holy places. The church lawyers described in documents three men being dragged from the temple as law enforcement sought entry for the search.

Troopers also arrested two men over the week and charged them with interfering with the search.

Prosecutor Allison Palmer argued the search was to uncover any evidence of criminal activity, not to malign a religion.

The search of the compound in Eldorado, 40 miles south of San Angelo, began last Thursday after a 16-year-old girl called a local family violence shelter to report her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her. The search warrant covered all documents related to marriages among sect members, including photos and entries possibly written in family Bibles.

Since then, the state has taken legal custody of 416 children, who are being housed at two sites in San Angelo, about 200 miles west of San Antonio. Another 139 women voluntarily left the compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - known as the YFZ Ranch - and were being housed with the children.

Goldstein said a federal search warrant was issued as well as the state warrants.

Outside court, Goldstein declined to comment on the allegations against the church.

Court documents said a number of teen girls at the compound were pregnant, and all the children were removed on the grounds that they were in danger of "emotional, physical, and-or sexual abuse."

On Wednesday, state officials said the women and children were in good overall health but would not comment on pregnancies. About a dozen children appear to have chicken pox but were being separated at the evacuation sites, which include an old historic fort and a convention center here, said Child Protective Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen.

Authorities were trying to determine the identities and parentage of many of the children; some were unwilling or unable to provide the names of their biological parents or identified multiple mothers.

Officials still aren't sure where the 16-year-old girl is who made the initial call, and she is not named among the children in initial custody petitions by the state.

Texas has an outstanding arrest warrant for the man alleged to have been the girl's husband, Dale Barlow, 50. He's a registered sex offender who pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor in Mohave County, Ariz., last year.

An unknown number of men and women stayed at the ranch while authorities completed the search of the gleaming 80-foot-high temple, a cheese-making plant, a cement plant, a school, a doctor's office and housing units.

The Texas investigation is the state's first of FLDS members, but prosecutors in Utah and Arizona have pursued several church members in recent years, including sect leader Warren Jeffs. He is serving two consecutive sentences of five years to life for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old wed to her cousin in Utah. He awaits trial on other charges in Arizona.