SAN ANGELO, Texas -- The former spokesman for the FLDS polygamist sect said the church should accept some blame for sexual and other abuses that allegedly occurred at their west Texas ranch.
Ex-spokesman Willie Jessop, who has faced a steady level of scrutiny for claiming he was unaware of the sexual abuse, said the church should accept some culpability and that he would return to the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, only on certain conditions.
"We have to take some responsibility," Jessop said Tuesday.
Jessop said he had never lived there but would "go back long enough to make sure those guard towers come down and that people are there because they want to be there."
His comments came after Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for sexually assaulting two underage girls he took as "spiritual" wives.
Secrecy, he said, was never a necessity.
"I want to make sure that every mom down there has their cellphones and that they have Internet and that they have choices, the same choice that I enjoy and you enjoy as an American," Jessop continued. "And if those choices are removed by some totalitarian authority that's going on here today, yeah, I'll be back."
Two of Warren Jeffs' relatives, older half sister Elaine Jeffs and nephew Brent Jeffs, who testified that his uncle raped him in a bathroom in Utah when he was 5 years old, breathed a sigh of relief when they spoke to reporters and observers.
"I was a victim of him, but now I can stand 10 feet tall and say, 'You are where you belong,' and I am able to let go of all this and move on with my life," Brent Jeffs said as he broke into tears.
On the other side of the courthouse, Elaine Jeffs, who left the FLDS in 1984 after her father, Rulon Jeffs, claimed his absolute rule over the sect, told reporters the trial helped give a "face to lots of victims" and provided her with "therapeutic" closure.
She said hearing the numerous sexually explicit audiotapes played during the trial was "devastating."
"He's a pervert, and the crazy thing is, he perverted his own religion," she said of her half brother, adding that the outcome of the trial may not have much impact on the FLDS because members are not hearing information about it.
The fundamentalist Mormon sect has about 10,000 members in the U.S. who live in communities in Texas, Utah and Arizona. The church believes that polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.
Even if they aren't now aware of the trial and verdict, she was optimistic they eventually will hear about it.
"These people are gradually going to be able to see and hear the truth," she said.
Texas Ranger Brooks Long, who coordinated the controversial, weeklong raid on the YFZ Ranch inn 2008, said he hopes the trial served to dispel any criticism of the raid, which led to the temporary removal of more than 400 children.
"Those folks who were casting aspersions early on about the negativity of our investigation and the focus of our investigation, we hope that the fruits that were presented to you in court now answer your questions," he said.
In her first-ever public statement, Rebecca Musser, who had been a spiritual wife to Warren Jeffs' father and escaped the FLDS when Jeffs tried to take her as his own wife, said the evidence recovered during the raid that she helped the state "interpret" compelled her to devote her time to helping the state make its case.
"I have been testifying against the sexual atrocities in the FLDS under Warren Jeffs' leadership since 2006 and have sacrificed much to maintain credibility as a witness," she said. "Despite many requests for interviews, I have chosen to remain silent. ... However, because of the nature and importance of the final outcome of this trial, I am choosing to give this statement."
(Kiah Collier is a reporter for the Standard Times in San Angelo, Texas.)