|Warren Jeffs Calling Shots From Prison?|
|ABC News||Apr 4, 2013, 6:01 AM|
ABC News' Amy Robach reports:
Five years have passed since hundreds of women and children were herded onto buses during the raid of the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas. The charge against Warren Jeffs - the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - was sexual abuse of underage girls.
After an intensive trial, Jeffs, a man who married more than 80 women, was convicted on two counts of sexual assault against two girls, ages 12 and 15, and sentenced to life in prison.
But despite his conviction and subsequent incarceration, 8,000 people who reside in the Yearning for Zion Ranch still call him their prophet and are wary of outsiders.
Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo
From behind prison walls, Jeffs continues to issue edicts.
"At home, you couldn't have any toys. You couldn't ride bikes, either," Nelli Steed, 6, whose mother was banished from the church, told ABC News.
Among his commands was a requirement that 15 men father all the children in the community, according to former members.
Some believe Jeffs wants control over the children. He claims he's having revelations from God about who to banish from the community.
Andrew Chatwin, a former FLDS member who is one of a group of individuals trying to help families cast out by Jeffs, told ABC News that many families are also going hungry, ordered by Jeffs to eat only beans and water, allegedly because the church is strapped for cash.
Other measures have been undertaken by the church to raise money, including a decree from Jeffs ordering people to turn their cars over to the church so they can be sold.
An investigation by ABC News' "20/20? last fall showed how Jeffs even ordered young boys to drop out of school to build his multimillion-dollar mansion.
"They said if we build it then it would melt the bars or whatever in his jail and he would be released," Willie Steed, 18, who left FLDS last year, told ABC News.
This week, ABC News contacted the Texas Department of Corrections to ask why Jeffs is still allowed to issue orders to the community from prison. Many people believe Jeffs is more powerful now behind bars than he was when he was living in the FLDS community.
"Again, if somebody comes in and visits with him, and he gives them instructions and they take them back by word of mouth, there's just nothing we can do to control that," John Hurt, director of public information at the Texas Department of Corrections, told ABC News.
Five years later, loyalty to Warren Jeffs is still absolute among many of his followers.
"We know he is innocent," said Dr. Maryam Holm, primary health care provider at the Yearning for Zion Ranch. "And we all yearn for his deliverance."
Last November, ABC News published an article about the group Holding Out Help, that assists those seeking escape from polygamist groups. The organization is known as one of the very few organizations that specializes in helping members of polygamous communities.