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12 children to rejoin parents from sect

Despite release, Texas authorities appeal the ruling that found the seizures unjustified.

SAN ANGELO, Texas - State child-welfare authorities yesterday appealed a stinging court ruling that said their seizure of more than 440 children from a polygamist sect's ranch was unjustified, but they also agreed to reunite 12 children with their parents while the case moves on.

The agreement narrowly specifies 12 children, some of whose parents had filed a motion with a state district court in San Antonio for their release from state foster care.

Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins declined to comment on the agreement.

CPS agreed to allow the parents to live with their children in the San Antonio area under state supervision, said Teresa Kelly, a spokeswoman for Rene Haas, an attorney for the parents. The families cannot return to the Yearning For Zion ranch, where they lived before the raid.

Aside from mothers staying with their infants in foster care, no other parents from the West Texas ranch have been allowed to stay with their children.

CPS's case for removing all children from the ranch was thrown into doubt Thursday when the Third Court of Appeals ordered a lower-court judge to rescind her decision giving the state custody of more than 100 of the children. The ruling was broad enough to cover nearly every child swept up in the April raid on the ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

CPS said in its appeal to the Texas Supreme Court that the appellate court was wrong to say that the vast majority of children at the ranch did not face the sort of extreme danger state law requires for them to be removed without a court order.

The agency cited evidence that it said showed that the church pushed teenage girls into spiritual marriages with older men.

The state asked to keep the children in foster care while the case is reviewed.

The limited agreement CPS offered covers 12 children, but it was unclear how many families that includes. Kelly said three of the children belonged to one family who had asked the court for their children's release. Kelly did not know why the nine other children were part of the agreement.

Lori and Joseph Jessop had been scheduled to appear in Bexar County district court on their motion to release their three children - ages 4, 2 and 1 - but CPS offered the agreement instead, Kelly said.

Similar agreements soon are unlikely; the couple filed their motion in a different court than the other families.

State officials said in their Supreme Court filing that it would be impossible to return all children covered in Thursday's ruling because they have not determined which children belong to which parents, and DNA tests were incomplete.

In justifying their removal of the children from the ranch, Child Protective Services cited as "documented" sexual abuse a statement from a girl who said she knew a 16-year-old who is married with a 5-month-old baby, and the statement from another girl that "Uncle Merrill" decides who and when she will marry. The state also cited five underage pregnant girls.

Attorneys for the parents whose case is under high court consideration urged the justices to reject the state's appeal, saying their children "are being subjected to continuing, irreparable harm every day that they are separated from their parents."