Warren Jeffs, Polygamist Leader, Convicted In Child Sexual Assault Case
SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) — A Texas jury convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs of child sexual assault Thursday in a case stemming from two young followers he took as brides in what his church calls "spiritual marriages."
The 55-year-old head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stood stone-faced as the verdict was read.
Jeffs, who acted as his own attorney, faces up to life in prison. The jury went immediately into sentencing proceedings. They had deliberated on a verdict for more than three hours.
Prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. They also played audio recordings in which Jeffs was heard instructing young women on how to please him sexually.
Jeffs has claimed he was the victim of religious persecution. The FLDS, which has at least 10,000 members nationwide, is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism. The church believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven and that Jeffs is God's spokesman on earth.
Police had raided the group's remote West Texas ranch in April 2008, finding women dressed in frontier-style dresses and hairdos from the 19th century as well as seeing underage girls who were clearly pregnant. The call to an abuse hotline that spurred the raid turned out to be a hoax, and more than 400 children who had been placed in protective custody were eventually returned to their families.
But authorities brought charges against several men from the group, with Jeffs by far the highest-profile defendant.....
Jeffs represented himself after firing seven attorneys in the six months leading to the trial. He broke his courtroom silence with an objection marked by a nearly hourlong speech defending polygamy, and twice threatened the judge and the court with warnings of punishment from God.
....Eleven other FLDS men were charged with crimes including sexual assault and bigamy. All seven of those who have been prosecuted were convicted, receiving prison sentences of between six and 75 years.