Constitutional Law

Young Children Removed from Texas Ranch Not Abused, State's Expert Says

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Updated: In the second day of a massive 416-child custody hearing, at least one expert for the state of Texas testified today that there was no sign of abuse among the boys and younger girls removed from a ranch run by a polygamous sect.

Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist, testified that the authoritarian religious sect is “abusive.” He apparently based this opinion on its indoctrination of children from a very young age to follow church practices that include multiple “spiritual” marriages and underage marriages of teenage girls to much older men or risk eternal damnation, according to the Associated Press. However, he admitted that the mothers seem to be loving parents, and said boys and young girls were well-treated.

According to authorities, “only a few of the children are teenage girls. Roughly a third are younger than 4 and more than two dozen are teenage boys. But about 20 women or more gave birth when they were minors, some as young as 13,” AP writes.

Meanwhile, lawyers representing the children have questioned whether the en masse hearing complies with their constitutional right to due process. Among them is Polly Rea O’Toole of Atkins O’Toole & Briner in Dallas, who unsuccessfully made this objection during the first day of the hearing.

“Nothing of this magnitude has been attempted before,” she told Texas Lawyer yesterday during a court recess, describing the massive custody hearing as cumbersome and untenable. “It’s too big,” she continued. “Anyone who thought they would put over 200 lawyers in one place and be able to accomplish much of anything in eight hours was not thinking clearly.”

As discussed in an earlier post about the first day of the hearing, children as young as 5 reportedly are being removed from their parents so that state officials can question them about possible abuse.

It isn’t known when Judge Barbara Walther is likely to rule on whether the children should remain in state custody.

Additional coverage:

New York Times: “Testimony on Under-Age Pregnancies in Sect”

ABC News: “Never Too Young to Marry, Sect Girls Say”

CNN: “Witness: Teens at ranch said any age OK to marry”

Agence France-Presse: “Polygamist sect had ‘culture’ of under-age sex: witness”

Updated at 6:10 p.m. to include New York Times coverage.

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