This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Posted: 2:11 PM- The moment demanded a Raymond Burr flourish:
Still reeling from an appeals court ruling that cracked the foundation of the largest child welfare case in the country, Texas attorneys produced a photo just this side of kiddy porn - a lanky Warren Jeffs kissing a tiny, flat-chested girl "how a husband would kiss a wife."
That kind of courtroom drama only happens on "Perry Mason" or in a John Grisham novel. And Judge Barbara Walther, Texas Child Protective Services and state attorney Ellen Griffith got the gut-churning change of subject they wanted - Ewww!
The 2006 photo became proof positive, according to Griffith et al., of Texas CPS' claims that a "pervasive" system of child abuse exists on the Yearning For Zion Ranch, that each of the 450 children bused to shelters and foster homes throughout Texas were at risk.
Legal debate shifted once again from the micro to the macro, from individual families to the communal ranch. Texas' argument is much easier to make when polygamist families are lumped into one crowd of pod people.
And Louisa and Dan Jessop helped make the state's case.
In the custody hearing for their newborn son, the new mother couldn't remember who lives in her house on the ranch. Even confronted with the photos, she said Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is "perfect" in her eyes. The father, one of the young bride's many brothers, argued one kiss does not equal sexual abuse. Outside court he suggested the photo had been doctored.
If the Jessops' stomachs didn't flip after looking at that picture, something is terribly wrong.
More practically, this is not the best way to get your kids back. The Jessops did - temporarily. But they were lucky.
FLDS spokesmen Rod Parker and Willie Jessop can howl about showboating. Attorneys can debate Texas' "guilty-by-association" strategy.
The photos are as "relevant as using a compromising photo of the parish priest to take the children of all the parishioners," National Coalition for Child Protection Reform Director Richard Wexler wrote in an e-mail to Tribune reporter Brooke Adams. Wexler called them a "sleazy" attempt to shape public opinion.
But in the end, if the Texas parents have any hope of regaining custody of their children, they will have to reject Warren's way of doing things.
Whether their statements in court were the result of honest ignorance or deliberate obfuscation, the Jessops and other YFZ polygamists have to realize Texas' case rests on one thing - a pattern of older men marrying young girls.
Defending the imprisoned prophet won't help them now.