A judge today ruled in the Texas polygamy case that all 416 children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch must remain in temporary state custody, even as Texas Rangers investigate a possible hoax behind phone calls made last month that prompted a police raid of the sect's compound two weeks ago.
"This is the hardest, toughest decision a judge makes any day," state District Judge Barbara Walther said of her ruling to keep the children from the parents who have, in some cases, allegedly abused them.
The judge also ordered the fathers and mothers to undergo DNA testing to establish parental relations. The tests will be performed Monday at a mobile testing lab outside the San Angelo Coliseum, where most of the children are being held (27 teenage boys were sent to a camp for juvenile boys and girls 400 miles away).
Separately, police have identified a Colorado woman as a "person of interest" in regard to telephone calls placed to a crisis center hotline in San Angelo.
As ABCNEWS.com reported Thursday, Texas Rangers met in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday with local police to discuss a possible connection between Rozita Swinton, 33, of Colorado Springs, and telephone calls made regarding activities at the polygamist compound in Eldorado, Texas, that prompted the police raid and removal of the children April 3.
"Texas Rangers accompanied the Colorado Springs officers while they executed an evidentiary search warrant at Swinton's residence for items related to previous false reports to authorities in Colorado," Texas Rangers said in a statement. "During the search, officers found several items that indicated a possible connection between Swinton and calls regarding the [Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints] compounds in Colorado City, Ariz., and Eldorado, Texas."
Texas Rangers said their investigation into the alleged underage marriages of adolescent females with older males within the sect is ongoing.
At the end of the final day of a two-day custody hearing, Judge Walther said each child is entitled to another hearing on or before June 5, although the judge is not required to rule by then.
The state has a year to make its case to take custody of the children, with a possible six-month extension, Texas lawyers said. If officials fail to make their case in that time, the children will be returned to their parents.
The judge's ruling followed a day of testimony from other experts.
Bruce Perry, a child psychologist, testified that the traditional foster care system could be destructive to children taken from the sect's ranch. But he also testified that the children could be at risk if they are returned to the ranch.
Perry said the raid of the compound is a "very unique situation" and that the foster care system would be "destructive" to the children. He emphasized the need for an "innovative" solution in which families and children could get to know one another, which he said would be more beneficial for the children.
While Perry suggested that foster care with individuals who are trained to deal with children who have suffered trauma would be ideal, he doubted such an option existed.
"That just does not exist in the foster care system that I'm aware of," he said.
Lawyers representing sect members, who were split into groups according to the age and sex of their clientele for cross examination, countered Perry's recommendations with their own.