United States: Jury sentences Polygamist to 75 years in prison

The Salt Lake Tribune

A Texas jury has sentenced a polygamous sect member to 75 years in prison on one count of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl whom he spiritually married in 2006 while living at a ranch in Schleicher County. The sentence for Merril Leroy Jessop, 35, is the stiffest yet handed out in the criminal trials of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Under Texas law, Jessop has to serve half of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.

The jury deliberated about four hours, according to the San Angelo Standard-Times , before deciding on Jessop's sentence. Jurors also imposed a $10,000 fine.

Jessop is the third man to be convicted by a Texas jury on sexual assault charges related to underage marriages authorized by FLDS leader Warren S. Jeffs and performed at the sect's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado.

Raymond Merril Jessop, a brother, received a 10-year sentence, and Allan Keate received a 33-year sentence. A fourth man, Michael Emack, received a seven-year sentence in a plea agreement.

Juries in the Merril Leroy Jessop and Allan Keate cases were allowed to apply an enhanced sentence of up to 99 years because their crimes occurred after 2005, when the Texas Legislature modified the state's sexual assault law.

Trials for six other men, including Jeffs, who face the same charge, are scheduled through the rest of the year.