When I was down in San Angelo this week covering this story, which appears in this week's paper version of Unfair Park, lawyers representing members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sect repeatedly told me that the state was in trouble -- that Texas' evidence for removing 464 children from the custody of their parents was shaky at best. Attorneys said it was only a matter of time before the entire Yearning For Zion case would fall apart.
It looks like that’s already started to happen.
Just off the Associated Press wire is a story that says an appellate court in Austin has ruled that Texas Department of Family and Protective Services officials had no right to seize more than 400 children from the ranch. From the AP:
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The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that the grounds for removing the children were "legally and factually insufficient" under Texas law.
Child welfare officials removed the children on the grounds that the sect pushed underage girls into marriage and sex and trained boys to be grown-up predators.
The appellate court ruled the chaotic hearing held last month did not demonstrate the children were in any immediate danger, the only measure of taking children.
In the meantime, DFPS officials have admitted that at least half of the so-called teen mothers taken from the ranch and put into state custody are actually adults. This is significant because it strikes at the heart of CPS’ contention that all children at the ranch were in danger because of a culture of sexual abuse that is part and parcel of the FLDS religion.
To prove these allegations, DFPS officials told the press that of 53 teenage girls seized from the ranch, 31 were pregnant or had children. We now learn that of these 31 mothers, 15 are actually adults, and that number is expected to go up in the next few weeks, as status hearings continue in San Angelo. --Jesse Hyde