After two days of testimony, a judge ruled Friday night that all 416 children taken from the polygamous Texas compound will remain in state custody. The judge also ordered the adults to undergo DNA testing Monday to establish parental relationships.
The dozens of Yearning for Zion sect members who crowded the San Angelo courthouse didn't show any emotion following the ruling, but one of their lawyers said today that they are, in fact, "devastated" and called the trial "a mockery of justice."
"The law is clear: Unless there's imminent or immediate danger to the children, the children must be returned to the parents. What the judge is saying is, 'I'll just keep these children and send them into foster families while we sort this out.' That's directly contrary to what the law requires," said attorney Jim Bradshaw, who is helping members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints organize their legal defense.
Many observers felt the judge had no choice but to hold the kids for now, after hours of hearings filled with testimony about girls as young as 14-years-old being forced into marriages with older men.
"There may be sexual abuse under Texas laws taking place in these homes. We don't know which homes, we don't know exactly what yet. The prudent thing to do is keep the children safe," said children's attorney Susan Hays.
"I suspect any group has things that need to be addressed. They certainly could have been adequately addressed by keeping the children in the homes, going in the homes and then taking on those issues," Bradshaw said.
In the past week, mothers of the children taken into custody have gone on national media, pleading desperately to get their children back.
Bradshaw suggested today that in order to be reunited with their children the women might even testify against some of the men and acknowledge that girls as young as 14-years-old were married off.
"I've spoken to members of those households who are willing to say whatever it takes, and if that means a commitment that there will be no marriages within the home, if that means supervision within the home, if that means counseling within the home, they're willing to do what it takes to ensure their children are returned."
On Thursday, testimony in the giant custody case revealed that more than 20 girls taken from the polygamist Texas ranch became pregnant or gave birth before they were 16 or 17.
The testimony came from Angie Voss, a supervisor of investigations at the Texas Department of Child Protective Services, who was part of the weeklong raid by Texas authorities of the polygamist compound and was relying on the interviews and records taken from the sect's compound.
"There is a culture of young girls being pregnant by older men," Voss testified under cross-examination.
Voss said that girls from FLDS had told child welfare interviewers that there is "no age too young to be married and they wanted to have as many babies as they could."
Voss' testimony was meant to bolster the argument that returning the children to their parents would put the children in danger of physical and sexual abuse.
Being interviewed on "Good Morning America Weekend Edition," Bradshaw said he didn't think there was sufficent "proof presented in the courtroom" to establish that there was a culture within the FLDS that encouraged girls younger than 18 to marry.