SALMON Idaho (Reuters) - A court-appointed attorney for boys removed from the Idaho home of a follower of imprisoned polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs said on Friday he feared for the well-being of six of the children released to their parents’ custody.
Two of the eight boys, who are between the ages of 13 and 17, were placed in foster care after they were removed from the home, Idaho authorities said. The six other teens were returned to their parents, who are adherents of the polygamous Mormon breakaway group founded by Jeffs.
Nathan Jessop, a follower of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was charged with misdemeanor child injury offenses after police raided the home on the outskirts of Pocatello last month and took away the eight teenagers.
Jessop, who was cited rather than arrested for the misdemeanor charges, has requested that his case be heard by a jury trial.
The case against Jessop is tied to his role as the sect’s assigned caretaker of boys banished to his so-called “repentance home” as discipline for infractions of church rules.
Their parents had agreed to the arrangement but, earlier this month after Jessop was charged, they traveled to Idaho from such states as Arizona and Kansas to reclaim custody of children they had not seen for years, authorities said.
Bradley Willis, an attorney appointed by an Idaho court to represent the boys, was opposed to the state’s handoff of the six boys.
“I had concerns about the influence of the church on the children and concerns about the ability of the parents to protect those children,” he said. “I’m disappointed by the outcome of the case.”
Willis said his concerns about the parents centered on the fact they had not acted to protect or attend to their children while they were with Jessop.
A spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said the agency was prohibited by law from discussing children’s cases. But he said the state conducts background checks in custody matters to ensure there are no safety issues with parents and supervises visits between them and their children to study their interactions.
Jessop, 47, is accused of confining one of the boys to a tiny furnace room for several days and of failing to report two underage children who fled the home as runaways.
Jeffs, 58, is serving a life term plus 20 years in prison for his 2011 conviction on sexual assault charges for the rape of underage girls at the sect’s Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas.
Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Paul Tait