- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

More than 400 children taken from a ranch run by a polygamous sect will stay in state custody and be subject to genetic testing, a judge ruled yesterday.

State District Judge Barbara Walther heard 21 hours of testimony over two days before ruling that the children be kept by the state. Individual hearings will be set for the children over the next several weeks.

Judge Walther ordered that all children and parents, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, be given genetic testing. Child welfare officials have said they’ve had difficulty determining how the children and parents are related because of evasive or changing answers.

The massive raid on the polygamist sect’s West Texas compound was prompted by a call from someone identifying herself as a 16-year-old girl with the church who claimed her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her.

Texas Rangers, in their efforts to locate that girl, are questioning a Colorado woman with a history of making false police reports.

Rozita Estraletta Swinton, 33, was being questioned in connection with the April 4 raid. She already was under arrest on an unrelated charge of making calls in which she pretended to be a child being held in a basement in Colorado, according to Colorado Springs police.

Colorado Springs police and the Rangers declined to provide additional details about the questioning.

But Flora Jessop, who operates a Phoenix shelter for girls trying to escape the sect, says Rangers traced to Colorado Springs calls made to her shelter from someone who implied the caller was the twin sister of the missing girl.

The caller referred to herself as the sister of Sarah, the name of the girl whose calls to a Texas family violence hot line about physical and sexual abuse triggered the raids. Texas authorities did not find the purported victim even after removing 416 children from the compound in Eldorado, Texas.

Mrs. Jessop, a former member of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told KUSA-TV in Denver she received another call Thursday morning, after Miss Swinton had posted bail in her Wednesday arrest.

“I did get her to admit to me that her name was Rose,” Mrs. Jessop said.

Mrs. Jessop said the calls to her shelter began March 30. The phone calls to the Texas hot line from Sarah were made March 29 and March 30.

In February, Miss Swinton was arrested by police in Castle Rock, Colo., on charges of false reporting. In that case, she called an adoption agency using the name Jessica to say she was weighing giving up her baby, according to the Denver Post.

Later, she left a note on the agency’s door saying she was now considering leaving the baby at a fire station and committing suicide. Two days later, she came to the police station and was admitted to a hospital on a voluntary mental hold. She was charged June 28, 2005, with obstructing police and making a false police report. Miss Swinton is now serving a one-year deferred sentence, according to the Post.

In Texas, expert witnesses testifying for the state said earlier yesterday that sect girls enter into underage marriages without resistance because they are ruthlessly indoctrinated from birth to believe disobedience will lead to their damnation, though they acknowledged that no signs of abuse among younger girls and any of the boys existed.

The belief system “is abusive. The culture is very authoritarian,” said Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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