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AG will prosecute any charges in raid of polygamous sect

A San Angelo judge has appointed the Texas attorney general's office as a special prosecutor in anticipation of criminal charges stemming from the raid on the West Texas polygamous compound near Eldorado.

The order signed Monday by 51st District Judge Barbara Walther appoints the attorney general "to assist with the prosecution of any criminal cases that may arise" in connection with the April 3 raid on the YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch about four miles north of Eldorado.

Walther's order states the attorney general's office will be "appointed as special prosecutor in these matters through all phases until final disposition."

Allison Palmer, the first assistant district attorney for the 51st District that includes Schleicher County, did not return messages left at her office but told the San Angelo Standard Times that she expects criminal charges to be filed.

"It's early in the game," Palmer said, "but I expect that ultimately there will be some criminal prosecution coming out of this."

Palmer told the newspaper that the attorney general's office offered assistance and that her office may need additional manpower to deal with a potentially complex case against members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints.

"There's the possibility there for us to have quite a bit to do," Palmer said.

Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said the office had extended an offer to assist local prosecutors early on. A law enacted last year gave the attorney general the authority to offer assistance to local DAs without being asked.

"Our office has been working closely with local prosecutors and local law enforcement on this case from the very beginning, and will continue to do so," Strickland said.

Abuse cases

Last week, the Texas Department of Public Safety said the arrest warrant for Dale Barlow, 50, that triggered the April 3 raid on the 1,691-acre ranch was no longer active. The calls alleging abuse at the compound by a woman named "Sarah" who claimed to be an underage bride married to Barlow may have been a hoax.

A 33-year-old Colorado Springs woman arrested for making prank phone calls has been described as "a person of interest" by the Texas Rangers.

But Palmer, the San Angelo prosecutor, disagreed that the warrant was no longer active.

"I don't think that's the correct term," she said to the Standard-Times. "We want to complete this investigation and evidence review."

There has been some thought that authorities will try to build abuse cases again the parents of the 464 children in temporary foster care who have been placed in group homes across Texas. Child Protective Services officials have cited "a pervasive pattern" of physical and sexual abuse at the ranch as justification for removing all of the children.

Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney that represents the FLDS, declined to comment about the appointment of a special prosecutor, "other than to say that it does not necessarily mean that criminal charges will be filed or what they might involve."

Education assessments

On Tuesday, CPS officials said they are working with the Texas Education Agency to develop an educational assessment of each child taken from the ranch. The TEA will develop an assessment that will be sent to each school district where FLDS children are in foster care.

CPS officials said they do not expect the children, who were home-schooled at the YFZ Ranch, to attend public schools.

"It is anticipated that the children will continue their education on the campus of their foster placement," the CPS said in a message on its Web site. "There are no plans at this time for the children to attend classes on any public school campus."

The FLDS members moved to West Texas in 2003, when the church bought the stark, rolling ranchland. The sect split from the Mormon Church when the latter rejected polygamy in 1890. Many of the estimated 10,000 members of the FLDS live in the twin cities Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. Jeffs, the group's leader, has been sentenced to two terms of five years to life in prison in Utah for forcing an underage girl to marry an older cousin. He faces additional charges in Arizona.