Church leader jailed for sex assaults on 'brides' aged 12 and 15
Published 10/08/2011 | 05:00
Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison in San Angelo, Texas, yesterday for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church deemed "spiritual marriages".
The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stood quietly as the decision of the jury was read out. He received the maximum sentence on both counts.
Prosecutor Eric Nichols had asked the jury for a life sentence, saying the case was "a prosecution to protect people".
Jeffs (55), who had insisted on acting as his own attorney during the earlier part of the trial, was convicted last Thursday. He walked out of the sentencing phase in protest after reading a statement that he claimed was from God, promising a "whirlwind of judgment" on the world if God's "humble servant" wasn't set free.
During the trial, prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old.
They played other tapes in which Jeffs was heard instructing as many as a dozen of his young wives on how to please him sexually -- and thus, he told them, please God.
"If the world knew what I was doing, they would hang me from the highest tree," Jeffs wrote in 2005, according to one of thousands of pages of notes seized along with the audio recordings from his Texas ranch.
Jeffs claimed his religious rights were being violated. Representing himself after burning through seven high-powered attorneys, he routinely interrupted the proceedings and chose to stand silently in front of jurors for nearly half an hour during his closing arguments. He called just one defence witness, a church elder who read from Mormon scripture.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven, has more than 10,000 followers who consider Jeffs to be God's spokesman on Earth.
He spent years evading arrest, crisscrossing the country as a fugitive who eventually made the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list before his capture in 2006, said lead prosecutor Eric Nichols.
Several former members of the church have testified that Jeffs ruled the group with a heavy and abusive hand.