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Idaho follower of polygamous sect faces child injury charges

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON Idaho (Reuters) - A follower of imprisoned polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs has been charged with misdemeanor child injury offenses after eight teenage boys were removed from his home during a raid by Idaho authorities last month, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

The case against Nathan Jessop stems from his role in the Mormon breakaway group as the assigned caretaker of boys exiled to his so-called "repentance home" as discipline for their supposed misbehavior within the sect, said Bannock County Deputy Prosecutor Ian Service.

Jessop's job was to "reprogram these kids for the church," Service said.

  Jessop, 47, was charged earlier this month with three counts of injury to a child in connection with his treatment of the boys, aged 13 to 17, at the home on the outskirts of the southeastern Idaho city of Pocatello, Service said.

  He was specifically accused of confining one of the boys to a tiny furnace room for several days and of failing to report two children who fled the home as runaways. Jessop, who was merely cited rather than arrested for the misdemeanor charges, has requested that his case be heard by a jury trial.

  Police raided the house last month, acting on a tip from a teenager who fled and contacted authorities through Holding Out Help, an organization that assists those seeking a way out of polygamous sects such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, founded by Jeffs.

  The 58-year-old Jeffs is serving a life term plus 20 years in prison for his 2011 conviction on sexual assault charges for the rape of underage girls at the sect's Yearning for Zion Ranch in west Texas. A portrait of Jeffs hung on the wall of the Idaho home raided last month, near vinyl lettering that read: "This one man is God to us," according to Service.

  Jessop is the son of Merrill Jessop, a former bishop at the ranch, which was seized earlier this year by the state of Texas.

Service said Nathan Jessop was himself banished from the main FLDS community on a "repentance mission" to oversee the Idaho home for boys expelled from the sect, presumably as punishment of some purported transgression of his own.

  Several mothers of the boys removed from the Pocatello house by child welfare officials testified in a recent court hearing that they had agreed to send their sons to the home as ordered by elders of the sect, currently headquartered in two remote enclaves on either side of the Utah-Arizona border.

  “These boys have been taken away from their biological parents and put into awful situations where they are prevented from having contact with the outside world,” Service said.

  Jessop’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh)

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