ELDORADO, Texas -- Eight men and four women were selected Wednesday for the jury that will decide the first criminal case stemming from the raid of a polygamist group's ranch in West Texas last year.
Court officials called 300 jurors to get 12 jurors and two alternates in tiny Schleicher County where everyone knows one another and media images of the sect's women wearing prairie-style dresses were impossible to avoid.
The original pool included 17 residents of the Yearning For Zion Ranch, but none are on the jury panel for the trial of Raymond Jessop. The 38-year-old is accused of sexual assault of a child, a charge stemming from his alleged marriage to an underage girl in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect that believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven.
Opening statements were scheduled to begin Wednesday afternoon.
Prosecutors say the girl, who gave birth at the ranch at age 16, was one of nine women married to Jessop, including three who were reassigned to him after his brother was excommunicated from the sect by jailed leader Warren Jeffs. Jessop faces a bigamy charge, stemming from his alleged marriage to one of Jeffs' daughters, but will be tried on that indictment later.
Defense attorneys sought to bar prosecutors from talking about polygamy during the trial, but Texas District Judge Barbara Walther refused to prevent them from discussing the so-called "spiritual" marriages between men and multiple women in the community.
Jessop is one of 12 FLDS men charged since authorities raided the ranch in April 2008 and swept 439 children into foster care. The children were later returned to their parents after an appellate court intervened, but documents and DNA seized during the initial raid resulted in criminal indictments.
The charges range from failure to report child abuse to sexual assault and bigamy. All the men will be tried separately.
Jeffs, already convicted in Utah as accomplice to rape, awaits trial on similar charges in Arizona before he can be tried for sexual assault of a child and bigamy in Texas.
The FLDS, a breakaway sect not recognized by the Mormon church, has historically been based along the Arizona-Utah line, but church members bought a 1,700-acre ranch outside Eldorado about six years ago and began building log cabin-style homes and a four-story limestone temple visible from the highway through town.
The Mormon church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago.