Cops Talk to Suspect in Polygamist Probe, Don't Arrest Him

The man at the center of the raid on a Texas polygamists compound was questioned today by Texas Rangers and denied that he had abused the 16-year-old girl whose call for help prompted the raid, his lawyer told ABC News.

Dale Barlow, 50, who lives in a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community in Colorado City, Ariz., met with Texas Rangers today but was not arrested.

His lawyer, Bruce Griffen, told ABC News that Barlow was not the person Texas authorities were looking for and that Barlow has an alibi. Barlow declined to be interviewed and ran into his house when approached by ABC News reporters.

Authorities in Eldorado, Texas, raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch on April 3 after a 16-year-old girl there called a family violence shelter and said that she had been physically and sexually abused by her husband from a "spiritual marriage" -- the term used by members of the sect to refer to their polygamous marriages.

The girl, who authorities have still not identified and have not located, said her husband was named Dale Barlow and gave Barlow's approximate age, according to court records. Dale Barlow is a common name among members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Griffen said Barlow had not been to Texas since 1977.

"You've got the wrong guy," he said.

Barlow was briefly jailed in Arizona last year, sentenced to three years probation and forced to register as a sex offender after he was convicted of conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, according to Mohave County, Ariz., Probation Department Chief Friend Walker.

Walker told ABC News that Barlow has been checking in regularly with his probation officer and last met with Walker on April 8.

Walker said that Barlow claims to have spoken to Schleicher County, Texas, Sheriff David Doran, who instigated the raid, on the phone on April 3.

Texas authorities issued a warrant for Barlow's arrest last week. During their raid of the compound, they took more than 400 children into custody and seized hundreds of documents and computers.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement, "We are still conducting our investigation and are aware of where [Barlow] is. We have not made any arrests today, and may not for several days."

Lawyers for the sect are expected to challenge both the search of the compound and the seizure of the children at a court hearing next week. If a judge decides the children, who were taken into custody because authorities believe they may be at risk of abuse, should remain in state custody, they will probably be placed in foster homes.

Authorities are still looking for the 16-year-old girl who made the cry for help from the compound, and some experts say the legal basis for the Texas officials' raid may not hold up in court if they cannot locate the accuser.

"That 16-year-old is the linchpin for probable cause. She is the reason they said they had cause to go in and do this search. If that is not present, if they can't establish probable cause, then everything they gathered in the search will likely be suppressed," said legal analyst Jonathan Turley today on "Good Morning America Weekend."

He added, "They will not be able to bring criminal charges. They can even be sued for that search."

A custody hearing next week about the 416 children who were seized from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ranch will question whether the state can legally justify its search of the religious compound.

"You can't hold over 400 children and keep them from their parents unless you can establish that those parents are directly linked to a criminal allegation or abuse," said Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University who has written about polygamy.

To prosecute the other families and children, authorities may have to assume they were all accused.

Turley said making such an assumption would be "a serious problem as they go forward. The court will give the state a fair degree of deference in protecting children initially, but that deference quickly evaporates with time. ... You can't say they're all vicariously guilty because they belong to a certain religion."

The defense will likely argue that authorities have equated polygamy with child abuse and used that as the basis for the raid.

"They can't say they're going to raid every polygamous compound. That's like going into every Catholic Church and talking to every altar boy because some priest committed a crime. There's nothing in polygamy that requires a child abuse or child rape."

"Warren Jeffs, in his cult-like operation, were extremists, from what I can see ... but this country has had a very difficult time with polygamy, some of us seriously question whether it is constitutional to outlaw polygamy without having proof of abuse of children," Turley said.

The Supreme Court outlawed polygamy in the 1800s but many legal experts continue to question the constitutionality of that decision.

"Consenting adults are usually allowed to pick their life style, particularly if it's religious based," Turley said. "This is going to reignite a lot of that controversy, because some feel that by criminalizing polygamy, you force it to go underground ... and makes it more easy to engage in illegal activities in those compounds."

Legal Questions About Childrens' Care

The children removed from the compound are being held in state custody and could soon be placed in foster care, a potentially huge adjustment for children raised in the isolated religious sect, a state Child Protective Services spokeswoman said Friday.

Child welfare officials took more than 400 children into custody last week on suspicion that they were being sexually and physically abused after police raided the compound. Hundreds of women from the sect voluntarily followed the children.

Protective services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said at a news conference Friday that the children would remain in state custody in the San Angelo, Texas, area until April 17, when a judge decides if they will remain in state custody.

No one from the outside will be permitted to see the children before the hearing, she said.

"These children are with us because we believe they have been abused or neglected," she said.

If the children stay in long-term state custody, the government will look for foster homes for them, Meisner said.

She added that a number of women from the polygamous group voluntarily came with the children and were free to leave. "These women came of their own free will," Meisner said.

Several other mothers, who are not in state custody, have publicly said they are being kept from seeing their children.

Texas police searched the compound last week after a girl who called for help -- apparently pregnant with a second baby and battered so badly she had suffered broken ribs -- called a family violence hot line pleading for a rescue. She told counselors on the phone that her 50-year-old husband had beat and raped her.

Meisner said they were "hopeful" that the 16-year-old whose call for help prompted the move is in state custody. Court documents released Friday show that investigators seized medical records for several women who shared the same name the teenager gave when she called.

Rena Mackert, who said she fled from the sect in Arizona, said the girl was probably "scared to death" to come forward because of the fear of retribution.

"She'll lose everything," she said. "They rape and murder the souls of these young women until they have no will and no desire and no knowledge that they don't have to submit to it."