Former defender of FLDS prophet now a vocal critic, star witness for prosecution

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Willie Jessop testified Tuesday. (Source: 3TV) Willie Jessop testified Tuesday. (Source: 3TV)
Jessop and Mike Watkiss  have had some heated exchanges over the years. (Source: 3TV) Jessop and Mike Watkiss have had some heated exchanges over the years. (Source: 3TV)
(Source: KPHO/KTVK) (Source: KPHO/KTVK)

Willie Jessop is a big, imposing man who speaks like he has a broken heart.

"They have changed my church into a cartel" Jessop told me outside Phoenix's federal court Tuesday.

For many years, Jessop was the chief of security and personal bodyguard for Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints prophet Warren Jeffs. He also was a designated spokesman for the FLDS church.

Jessop and I have had some pretty heated exchanges over the years, but now he is one of the star witnesses in the Justice Department's discrimination lawsuit against Colorado City, AZ and Hildale, UT.

"Our city has gone completely rogue," Jessop said. "Our society is under a lot of duress."

On the witness stand Tuesday, Jessop told jurors of working with FLDS cops in the twin border towns to protect Jeffs while Jeffs was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives and running from child sex charges.

Jessop told jurors of elaborate escape plans, encrypted and coded messages and secret couriers, all designed "to keep him [Jeffs[ from being captured."

[RELATED: Testimony: Disposable phones used to aid polygamous leader]

He also told jurors that Jeffs had the power to excommunicate and banish people from the community, even elected officials like mayors and City Council members. Jeffs would then "appoint who should run," Jessop said.

He got emotional when talking about why he no longer follows Jeffs. Jessop said his change of heart came as a result of an eye-opening experience.

Following their raid on Jeffs' YFZ Ranch in Texas, investigators let Jessop see some of the evidence seized, including an audio tape of Jeffs raping a 12-year-old girl.

That tape was played for jurors in Jeffs' 2011 trial in Texas and helped get the prophet a life sentence plus 20 years.

The tape also is what Jessop said transformed him from the prophet's protector to a vocal critic and now witness for the government.

"Son of bitches were raping little girls," he told the court.

"It's just so much easier to live in denial instead of stepping up and telling the world we're sorry," Jessop told me after his testimony. "We did not know in our defense of Mr. Jeffs that we were defending a pervert."

Copyright 2016 KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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