I am so proud of Texas!
Nancy Mereska, Coordinator
Stop Polygamy in Canada
Two more FLDS men sentenced
Matthew Waller Scripps—Texas Newspapers
Michael Emack walked into the courtroom, sat down and stretched out his handcuffed hands to shake with those around him, with his lawyer Randy Wilson of Abilene, with Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints spokesman Willie Jessop, and finally with the man seated next to him, Lehi Barlow Jeffs, who was there to plead no contest to charges of bigamy and sexual assault of a child.
The two were the latest sect members, fellow residents of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, to be sentenced as an outcome of the state raid on the ranch two years ago.
Emack’s orange jumpsuit clashed with Jeffs’ blue button-down shirt. Emack, 59, an FLDS member, had pleaded no contest in January to sexual assault of a child, a 16-year-old girl with whom he fathered a child. He received a seven-year sentence from 51st District Judge Barbara Walther.
Emack was in Walther’s court again Thursday to plead no contest again, this time to a charge of bigamy.
The state, led by prosecuting attorney Eric Nichols, presented dozens of records to make the case that, besides his legal wife, he had three “spiritual” or “celestial” wives.
“You intend to give up your right to a jury … and your right to remain silent?” Walther asked Emack before the evidence was presented.
“Yes,” Emack said.
Walther sentenced him to seven years, to be served concurrently with his previous sentence.
Jeffs, 31, and the nephew of the former leader of the FLDS, was next. He took a plea deal and was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexual assault of a child, a girl who was bound to him in a nonlegal marriage when she was 15 years old. The assault itself — based on the date of birth of her child — was alleged to have occurred on Sept. 18, 2006.
Jeffs also plead no contest to bigamy, allegations that he had three wives, one of them legal. He was sentenced to eight years to be served concurrently with his other sentence.
A trial on a charge of sexual assault of a child had been scheduled for Jeffs on Monday in Schleicher County.
Both Jeffs and Emack will need to serve half of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
The lawyers worked out the conditions under which Emack and Jeffs could appeal their cases, namely if granted an appealed motion to suppress evidence or if the constitutionality of bigamy laws were successfully challenged.
“Your appeal will be limited to what we have discussed,” Walther told Jeffs. “Do you understand?”
Jeffs said he did.
“The grounds we have reserved for appeal are very strong,” Wilson said.
Nichols also presented a stack of papers with family group records, priesthood records, birth records, letters and forensic DNA reports before Walther found Jeffs guilty given his no contest plea.
Wilson said the entire prosecution of FLDS members amounted to religious persecution.
“Religious matters should be separate from matters of government,” Wilson said. “They are too high and holy. … All people should be free to the free exercise of religion. …
“The government should have no more to do with the principals of religion that with the principles of mathematics.”
Wilson said the state of Texas regularly helps underage girls who are pregnant but those who assaulted them are not pursued or prosecuted.
Outside the courthouse, with law enforcement personnel flanking him, Nichols said that the plea for no contest is practically the same as a guilty plea.
Jessop, who often acts as a spokesman for the FLDS, said the “selective prosecution” that the state is engaged in hasn’t altered much since he came to San Angelo during the April 2008 raid that, based on what is now thought to be a hoax phone call alleging abuse, resulted in the removal of more than 400 children from the ranch and the seizure of personal and community property to use as evidence against the FLDS.
“My first introduction to the courthouse was a big yellow tape around it that said ‘crime scene,’” Jessop said. “There is no change.”