Bodyguard Tells Jury of Fundamentalist Sect | Courthouse News Service
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Bodyguard Tells Jury of Fundamentalist Sect

PHOENIX (CN) - A former bodyguard for imprisoned fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs on Tuesday testified that church members held drills to protect Jeffs in case law enforcement came to arrest him.

Willie Jessop, former security guard and spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, testified in the federal jury trial against the border towns of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah.

The Department of Justice sued the towns in 2012, claiming they denied non-church members access to water, power and police protection.

In June 2015, U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland said the Justice Department would have to go to trial , because a jury verdict in another case - Cooke v. Town of Colorado City - was not enough to prove its discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

"First, as defendants have pointed out, the two cases involve different subsections of the FHA, which presumably means that the evidence necessary to prove plaintiff's FHA claim in this case will be different from the evidence that was offered in the Cooke case," Holland ruled. "More importantly, the Cooke case focused on the water issue, which is only one of the issues that plaintiff has raised in its pattern and practice claim in this case."

The jury found for Ron and Jinjer Cooke, who said they were denied a water connection because the cities falsely claimed there was a shortage of water.

When Jeffs became a fugitive in 2005, Jessop testified on Tuesday, the church changed into "a cartel."

"Our role became heavier and heavier in how to protect him," Jessop told the jury.

Church security bought a number of ATVs, which they strategically placed around their meetinghouse to aid Jeffs in a getaway.

Jessop said members of the Colorado City Marshal's Office parked outside the control room of the FLDS meetinghouse as a line of first defense against outside law enforcement agencies.

In the Justice Department's complaint, the Colorado City Marshal's Office (CCMO) is alleged to have used "its state-granted law enforcement authority to enforce the edicts of the FLDS, to the detriment of non-FLDS members."

Jessop testified that the CCMO arranged for him to take sniper training with local officers to prepare for an attack, and the church bought high-tech scramblers "to keep outside law enforcement from knowing what was going on."

Members of the community were required to drive 35 to 40 minutes out of the cities to the Interstate 15 corridor to make calls to Jeffs from burner phones bought from Wal-Mart and other stores outside of the states for fear that the single tower in the community was bugged by the federal government. Jeffs was given new burner phones weekly.

When Jeffs was arrested in August 2006, he was found with 16 cell phones, four computers, a number of wigs and sunglasses, and more than $55,000 in cash.

Jessop left the church in 2011, after learning that Jeffs participated in the rape of a 12-year-old girl.

Jessop told the jury that he came into possession of an audiotape detailing the rape after a meeting with the Texas Attorney General's Office, and stored it at his business - R&W Excavating - where he allowed members of the church to hear it as proof of Jeffs' actions.

In retaliation, the church ordered a raid of Jessop's business.

"They came in, busted the back door open, and started packing up everything," Jessop said, including taking the audio of the rape.

It wasn't just church members participating in the raid, but also members of the Colorado City Marshal's Office.

"There were several Marshal units doing circles around it the whole time," he said.

According to Jessop, Jeffs' brother, Lyle, offered to return all the items removed from R&W if he would stop calling into question Warren's actions. Lyle is a bishop in the FLDS church.

Jessop refused the offer.

"The sons of bitches were raping little girls," he testified, breaking down into tears.

Jeff is serving life plus 20 years in Texas for sexually abusing the 12-year-old and a 15-year-old girl, whom he called his "spiritual wives." He is believed to still lead the church from prison.

After the raid, Jessop says, his status with the church "completely imploded."

The items taken from the raid on Jessop's business were retrieved in 2013 when he learned a church member had been storing them in another church business and at his sister's house.

Included in the items returned to him was a set of keys that opened all the doors in his home and office - keys that he never made.

"At that point I realized I needed some pretty serious help," Jessop testified.

Jessop sued the Jeffs brothers and the FLDS church in 2012 for their part in the raid on his business. He won a $30 million default judgment when they failed to respond to a court summons.

The jury of seven men and five women from northern Arizona will continue hearing evidence Wednesday. The trial is expected to last five weeks.

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