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State lets West Texas sect woman keep her baby

AUSTIN -- Lawyers for the state conceded in court Thursday that the woman from the polygamist sect who gave birth this week while in the state's custody is not a minor and said she is free to return to her home in West Texas or remain with her three children -- including the newborn -- under protective care.

The acknowledgement came during a hearing in a Travis County courtroom where the woman's husband was seeking to have his family reunited with him at the YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch near San Angelo, where last month Child Protective Services officials took more than 400 children into custody on grounds that they were in imminent danger of abuse.

State District Judge Darlene Byrne ruled that her court had no jurisdiction in the matter because a judge in San Angelo had already ruled that the state could keep custody of the children while the investigation into conditions at the West Texas compound continues.

But a spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), the breakaway Mormon sect that operates the ranch, said the news from the courtroom provided a rare ray of sunshine for the religious organization that has been fighting to regain custody of the children who were taken from the ranch six weeks ago.

"This is an awesome day in a way,” said Willie Jessop, a spokesman for the FLDS. "This mother will get to stay with her three children, and we exposed the corruption of CPS. We've told them all along that this woman was an adult, and they just ignored us.”

Dan Jessop, who sought the hearing in Austin on behalf of his wife, Louisa, and their three children, said he viewed the hearing as at least a partial victory. He said he is relieved that his children are being kept together with their mother, and he vowed to continue to seek the full reunification of their family.

"They are my children, and I know that if they are with my wife they will remember me and she will teach them as we've always tried to teach them,” Dan Jessop said after the hearing. "We know that eventually, we'll be back together."