Fundamentalist Mormon Sentenced to 75 Years in Prison March 20, 2010

Fundamentalist Mormon Sentenced to 75 Years in Prison

Merril Leroy Jessop, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, got what he deserved.

Jessop was convicted Wednesday on allegations that he illegally married and fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl while living at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Schleicher County in 2006.

He was sentenced to 75 years in prison and has to pay a $10,000 fine for sexual assault of a child.

in addition to impregnating an underage girl, he also lied about it — saying she was 18 when she wasn’t — and really doesn’t seem to think he did anything wrong.

Religion gave him a cover for his criminal actions, but the jury didn’t let him get away with it. They need to be applauded for that.

As reader Ron points out, despite the lunacy happening with the Texas State Board of Education, we ought to give some credit to “twelve rational minded folks in West Texas for giving this moron 75 years.”

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  • polomint38

    You Americans know how to set down a sentence.
    Over here in Blighty, he would have gotten a 2 day gaol sentence, suspended for 3 hours and a fine of 2 pints of milk and a mars bar.

    Did I over do the irony about low sentences in England?

    Serious point, regarding the $10K fine, does it go to state/federal coffers, or do the victims get some of the money?

  • a thought

    It’s probably not that they’re particularly rational; they probably just don’t like Mormons.

  • Claudia

    I was about to write a comment saying that even with all the special treatment religion gets, even the religious draw the line at child rape, but then I paused.

    In another tab I had the news that the Pope was “apologizing” to all the beaten and raped children of Ireland. The article mentioned that in no place did he take any personal responsibility for his orders of secrecy and cover-up or that these men who raped children were going to be punished. Of course no government officials of any country was even suggesting that the Catholic Church be looked into given its, you know, pattern of raping children.

    So I’m glad this man was convicted and thrown in jail, but I can’t say that child rape is bad enough to supercede the special treatment of religion. Jessop made the mistake of raping a girl in a minority religion. If he were father Jessop and instead of a 15 year old girl it was several 10 year old boys, he’d be given therapy and maybe 6 months prison, then given his old job at another parish.

  • Justin


    The money is government funds just like taxes, parking meters, what have you. I assume that in this case it’s State of Texas money now rather than city/county or federal, given then nature of the crime.

  • llewelly

    Hurley described the way that Jessop was called to marry the girl, being called in after work to appear before the former FLDS leader and his father and being married with about half an hour notice.

    “Was it his free choice to do that that evening?”

    It’s one thing to give every accused person the best possible defense. But given that the man fathered a child on this woman, it’s clear that Hurley is well over the line; he has gone far beyond offering the best possible defense, and become a rape-apologist.

  • “Even worse than how he impregnated an underage girl is how he lied about it — saying she was 18 when she wasn’t — and really doesn’t seem to think he did anything wrong.”

    I’d say that the actual act of child rape is worse, because of all three acts you describe (rape, lying about her age and not thinking it was bad) child rape is what impacts the rest of society in the most serious way. Whether he lies to cover it up or thinks he did nothing wrong is of no consequence to me. I’m not interested in rehabilitating the piece of shit. I’m only interested in ensuring that he never has access to children again.

  • 75 years in jail is good to here. Now if he hadn’t have married her or fathered a child with her – if it was just one count of sexual assault – what would the sentence be?

    Here in Canada, it would likely be no more than 2 years, which is sick. You can’t rehabilitate anyone within that length of time. And for the ones that are high-risk to reoffend and impossible to rehabilitate, that’s far too short of a sentencing to protect society.

  • muggle

    Please, don’t give me the church made me do it nonsense. If you’re so malfunctioning that you let the church order you around to the point of raping kids, you’re pretty damned irredeemable and should still get the book thrown at you. For the protection of other kids, if nothing else.

    Hemant, surely you didn’t mean that lying and having no remorse was worse than the actual rape itself! Tell me that was bad wording on your part. Scuzzy as lying and lack of remorse are actually raping the poor girl was worse.

    I’ve already read Elissa Wall’s book and I’ve only a few pages left on Brent Jeff’s and that FLDS cult is really fucking messed up. Bad enough what they do to the grownups who are, at least to some degree, willing victims but what they do to kids is seriously fucked up.

    Excusing your behavior because your church pressures you only carries so much weight. You cross the line into molesting kids or killing infidels, you get no sympathy from me. None.

  • Stephen P

    While he clearly deserves a stiff jail sentence, I have to say that a life sentence (which is what this is in all but name) is ludicrously excessive. But ludicrous excess seems to be considered normal in the US.

  • @Stephen P,
    Get real. The chances of this scum becoming rehabilitated are about 0. Understand that? ZERO. If the death penalty was viable and applied fairly, I’d be pushing for that penalty on dirt-bags like this.
    You think keeping him away from the rest of us forever is excessive? You live with these fucks then! If you have young female relatives living with you, then how about letting him and others of his ilk out on an early release program and setting them up in a half-way house in your neighborhood? How would you like that real life application of your progressive thinking?
    Oh, it’s great to have “liberal” and progressive” mores when you are assured the consequences of those so-called values don’t creep up and bite you in the ass.

  • Re rehabilitation: Bear in mind that this guy is probably not a pedophile (or similar recognized sexual-compulsion disorder). His crime was enabled by his being emebedded in a culture that normalizes young brides under compulsion (as did our own culture, not so many centuries ago). What that means for rehab, I don’t know — but if I’m right, he likely wouldn’t be a hazard to re-offend if released into the larger society (though back home — yeah, probably).

    Also, I agree with “a thought” above: if the guy was a Baptist, I bet he’d have got off more lightly.

  • @Eamon Knight,
    Probably or isn’t? Not worth the risk to the rest of us, my friend. I’m not willing to give a few pseudo-intellectual snobs free reign to run their sociological experiments on the rest of us in the name of cultural diversity.
    I am very familiar with your argument, but I’m not buying it at all. He’s to blame and nobody else and I’m not willing to gamble that he might end up being a nice guy after all. As an aside, extenuating circumstances don’t mean anything to the victims or to their families.

  • Ron in Houston

    A little background for anyone that’s interested:

    Normally sexual assault of a minor is a 2nd degree felony with a punishment of 2 to 20 years.

    Texas added a provision that if you sexually assault a minor while proporting to marry them then the degree of crime is raised to a first degree felony where the punishment is 5 to 99 years.

    This guy was wholly unrepentant, he came in to court on the first day wearing an American flag tie. They honestly believe that freedom of religion means being able to have sex with girls as young as 12.

    So far Texas has sentenced 4 of these yo-yos. (6 are awaiting trial.) One guy plead to 7 years. One was given 10 years by a jury. (Both of those were 2nd degree felony cases) On the two first degree felony cases one got 33 years and the latest got 75 years.

  • Minneyar

    On one hand, he committed a crime, and it’s fine and well that he got caught and punished.

    On the other hand… 75 years?! That’s effectively a death sentence. The age of consent in most states is 16, although it’s 17 in Texas. Furthermore, from what little information is in the article, it doesn’t seem like she objected to the marriage. I think that sticking a guy in prison for the rest of his life for having sex with a girl who is definitely post-pubescent and almost at the age of consent is rather extreme, not to mention a waste of state resources.

    Not to mention that prisons are not exactly the nicest places — as soon as word gets out that this guy had sex with a “child”, he’s got a rather high chance of being raped and killed in prison.

    Seriously, what happened to the punishment fitting the crime?

  • Ron in Houston


    You’d really have to understand just how vile this cult is to get a context of why the jury gave the guy 75 years.

    The girl in this case was told 30 minutes before hand that she was now at age 15 going to become a baby factory for a man over twice her age.

    There is no such thing as love, or courtship or any of the other things most normal folks would think was involved.

    Girls as young as age 12 are assigned as concubines/sex slaves/baby factories to these men. Why? By having multiple wives and producing unsupportable numbers of children their theology teaches that they will become Gods in the afterlife.

    In this particular case, one of the pieces of evidence was a letter by the defendant to their “prophet.” Basically the letter said, “hey she’s 15 and just got out of eighth grade (the girl is a bit developmentally delayed) can I make her stay home to help take care of the other kids.”

    Hopefully now it will make a little more sense.

  • ed42

    Why punish the people of Texas for 75 years (to pay for this creeps room and board)? Does the $10K ‘fine’ go to the child or the state? Looks like there is nothing for the victim in the verdict, how can that be justice?

  • Ron in Houston


    I think the jury verdict is for a deterrent effect rather than for victim’s reparations.

    However, now that there is a conviction, the victim is available for services.

  • @Ron,
    What you said 🙂

  • @Godless Monster: I didn’t say he wasn’t to blame, and doesn’t deserve serious time. I only commented on the causal context of his behaviour, and that it likely differs from that found in typical cases in the outside world.

  • @Eamon Knight,
    I misrepresented what you wrote. No excuses forthcoming, only apologies.

  • Miko

    Seeing as he lied about the girl being 18, one of two things must be true: 1) he really thought she was 18, or 2) he does acknowledge wrong-doing in having sex with a minor. In any event, the forced nature of it seems more appalling that the age disparity, no?

    Hemant: Even worse than how he impregnated an underage girl is how he lied about it

    I’m sure the girl would agree.

    Ron in Houston: You’d really have to understand just how vile this cult is to get a context of why the jury gave the guy 75 years.

    Nah, once I heard “Texas” I understood exactly why they’d imprison him for 75 years. Unless of course he was not white or not mentally competent to stand trial, in which case I’m surprised that they didn’t lynch him.

    polomint38: Serious point, regarding the $10K fine, does it go to state/federal coffers, or do the victims get some of the money?

    No, the money goes to the government. The victim, on the other hand, gets to pay the taxes to keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life.

    ed42: Looks like there is nothing for the victim in the verdict, how can that be justice?

    This is basically the case whenever anyone is imprisoned (except possibly for short term incarceration awaiting a trial or a drunk-tank-like incarceration during a “cooling off” period). Historically, the foundations of justice in the Western common law tradition have been restitution and compensation. Our modern deviations from the common law system come from attempts by the English kings starting in the 11th century to bring the dispensation of justice under their hands, starting by instituting a system of travelling royal judges (this is where “circuit court” comes from) and ending with forcing people to travel to the king to get certain types of disagreements resolved (which was a major issue in the pre-Revolutionary War period). The kings, of course, had no interest in restitution or compensation for the victims, since there was already a system in place that provided that and they were explicitly attacking that system. Rather, they saw the courts as a way of enforcing the loyalty of the subjects (since justice would be based on the will of the king rather than a common understanding of law) and of generating revenue (by taking compensation previously due victims for the crown instead). The U.S. system was partially a reaction against the most egregious abuses of the royal justice system, which is why the Constitution and U.S. law have certain restrictions like habeas corpus and a requirement that crimes be tried in the district in which they occurred (although Obama’s policy regarding Gitmo trials seems likely to end both of these restrictions), but maintained certain features of the royal system that the central state found convenient, such as a focus on maintaining order as opposed to upholding common law and the payment of fines to the government instead of to victims. So, you are correct, just like all other trials conducted in the United States, this had absolutely nothing to do with justice; it was entirely an attempt to promote the strength and interests of the state apparatus. (This, of course, is not to say that the attacker is not guilty, just that justice couldn’t possibly have been served given the jurisdiction in which the crime was tried.)

    The royal system, incidentally, is what gave us prisons. Up to that point, people seemed capable of doing a good job of providing justice and providing for their safety without the need to lock people up for 75 years, let alone keep more than 1% of the population in cages, despite there being dangerous criminals back then too. We have prisons now not because we need them, but because they serve the interests of the ruling elite and because the ruling class has tricked the rest of us into accepting them. Saying that someone deserves to be imprisoned for 75 years show an unbelievable amorality, no matter what crime that someone committed.

    TheGodlessMonster: If the death penalty was viable and applied fairly, I’d be pushing for that penalty on dirt-bags like this. … Oh, it’s great to have “liberal” and progressive” mores when you are assured the consequences of those so-called values don’t creep up and bite you in the ass. … I’m not willing to give a few pseudo-intellectual snobs free reign to run their sociological experiments [to rehabilitate criminals rather than throw away the key] on the rest of us in the name of cultural diversity.

    This line of thinking is fairly typical of the conservative judicial tradition (basically, an extension of the royalist system I mentioned above): more concern with social order than with justice, although its proponents still have the nerve to call it a justice system. It begins with an implicit emotional reaction (“dirt-bags,” “terrorists,” etc.) and then calls for the most egregious penalty that the speaker can imagine (death penalty, life in prison, barbaric forms of torture) and attacks any dissent using standard meaningless conservative buzzwords (“liberals,” “judicial activism,” “cultural diversity,” etc.). No, we can’t uphold libertarian values like proportionality of response, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, etc., because that means we may sometimes make a mistake and “the consequences of those so-called values don’t creep up and bite you in the ass.”

    But the problem with this legal “philosophy” (beyond the fact that it’s inherently immoral and arbitrary) is that it has no self-contained limits. Once you start moving away from libertarian principles of justice like “it’s better to let 100 guilty persons go than to accidentally condemn one innocent person,” the principle of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt slowly erodes to “it’s better to condemn 100 innocent persons than to let one guilty person go,” to “why not survey everyone; surely only the guilty have reason to complain,” to some unimaginable police state (“unimaginable” to those who haven’t lived in one). I don’t normally make slippery slope arguments, but I feel a bit safer doing so here, as this is a slope we’ve seen in practice in just about every totalitarian society that has ever existed. As a (mostly) free people who’d like to stay (mostly) free, it’s important that we eternally condemn conservative justice and instead remember that justice was instituted to serve the people, not the state.

  • @Miko,
    Thank you for the “history” lesson. The length of your response doesn’t disguise the fact that a good portion of your argument is based on assertions, assumptions and stereotypes. Very well written, but I’ll go with my crude and straightforward embrace of reality as opposed to lengthy lectures on a world that exists only in your mind.
    P.S. I’m done with this exchange

  • Muggle and a couple others — You’re right about the poor phrasing I used. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the lying about her age was worse than the impregnating her. I rewrote that line to make the meaning more clear. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • aj

    I have personally met this guy. I think 75 years is a little excessive (he will be lucky to be alive half that long), but I’m glad somebody is finally getting jail time.

    This guy is a simpering lunatic whose brain has been melded into paste over thirty-odd of ritual and dogma peddled by cynical pimps. He needs to see jail time — bad. But 75 years is absurd. I know that America’s trying to make an example of him (I have to question the justice of punishing one person as an example of a greater institution, but whatever). This punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime, and if the federal government continues to serve unjust sentences like this, it will only validate the cult’s persecution complex and contribute to its overall longevity.

  • Ron in Houston


    I really appreciate what you have to say, especially since you’ve met ole Merril Leroy.

    I seriously sensed that the guy who got 33 years, Allen Keate had a serious WTF moment.

    When you’ve let your reality be defined by those around for years and years and you suddenly find out that it was all a lie, well, then you’re going to have some serious cognitive dissonance.

    It’s sort of like when those of use who were taught to believe in Santa Claus suddenly found it he didn’t exist only probably magnified many more times.

  • Not that I’m defending the Mormon religion here, but the FLDS sect took the weirdness from the mid to late 1800’s and continued it. Then expounded upon it with their brainwash tactics of enslaving children before they had a chance to know what the real world had to offer.

    Some do leave, but after years of being told what to do, it’s a difficult thing. Which is why the state steps in and does their best to protect the children that can’t have a voice.

  • aj


    I’m just saying the sentence is excessive. That’s all. Take religion out of it for a moment. That guy could have shot a fifteen year old girl in the brain and been out in 25 years with good behavior.

  • muggle

    I can’t believe anyone thinks that this sentence is excessive. AJ, your example only shows that that sentence should be harsher. Anyone shoots anyone they should never get out of jail. Ever.

    You’re welcome, Hemant. I knew that didn’t come out the way you intended it.

  • Jen

    I think this is great. I have a (weird) love of books about the FLDS Mormons, and Jessops are awful, awful people. They are also, as a group, powerful. The only downside is that this will feed the FLDS martyr complex and convince another generation that they need to fear the police… maybe this isn’t for the best? The problem is complex, that is for sure. But sexual consent in these communities is near zero. Elissa Wall wrote about how it is standard practice to offer a girl less than 48 hours to prepare for her wedding to her assigned (older man/ already married/ somehow related to her) husband. They are all brainwashed with the threat of damnation and separation from family, so I can’t see these poor girls as making an informed choice.

  • DGKnipfer


    I take it you believe attempts at rehabilitation are a waste of time, money, and effort? You’re from the Eye for an Eye school of thought? I’m just trying to understand your point of view.

  • Angie

    I’m glad that the criminal justice system is recognizing a pattern of abuse in the FLDS and punishing perpetrators accordingly. I personally have no qualms with a 75 year prison sentence for a child-rapist.

    The FLDS is a very pathological religion, and more accounts of abuse are surfacing. I recommend the following books for a deeper understanding of the FLDS:

    – ESCAPE by Carolyn Jessop

    – CHURCH OF LIES by Flora Jessop

    – STOLEN INNOCENSE by Elissa Wall (who was central to the Warren Jeffs criminal case)

    – LOST BOY by Brent W. Jeffs


    – THE PRIMER by the Utah and Arizona Attorney Generals’ offices

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