November 2, 2009
The first criminal trial stemming from the state of Texas' 2008 raid on a polygamist ranch is under way, with prosecutors attempting to prove that a middle-aged man sexually assaulted a minor he had taken as one of his nine "spiritual wives."
Prosecutors plan to use DNA evidence to show that Raymond Merril Jessop, now 38 years old, fathered a child with the girl in 2004, when she was 16. It is illegal in Texas to have sexual relations with a minor outside of a lawful marriage, even if the minor consents. Prosecutors contend the marriage in question wasn't lawful because Mr. Jessop already had several wives. He has pleaded not guilty.
Even with DNA evidence in hand, the prosecution "is going to need a witness," said Arnold Loewy, a professor of criminal law at Texas Tech University. "The fact that they purported to be married doesn't conclusively prove that they had sexual relations," said Prof. Loewy, who has no ties to the case.