Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs has been sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church deemed “spiritual marriages.”
According to reports, jurors in San Angelo, Texas conferred for a total of 40 minutes before handing down a life sentence on one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child and 20 years in prison for one count of sexual assault of a child.
As his verdict was being read, the 55-year-old leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who prosecutors said “perverted a religion to his own ends,”stood in silence.
During the trial, rather that focus on Jeffs’ multiple marriages, the prosecution built their case on alleged violations of the laws of consent in Texas, arguing that neither of the two assaulted girls, ages 12 and 15, were old enough to consent to engage in sexual activities.
Under Texas law, any sexual activity between an adult and an under-17-year-old is a sexual assault even if the minor is a willing participant. The same activity with an under-14-year-old is aggravated sexual assault punishable by up to life in prison.
In addition to presenting a DNA report showing that Jeffs had fathered a child with the 15 year old, prosecutors also played audio tapes of the FLDS leader encouraging a group of his “child brides” to set aside all their inhibitions prior to having sex with him.
Besides firing his Judge appointed stand-by counsel and opting to act as his own attorney, Jeffs also refused to attend the final stages of the trial and additionally claimed the prosecution was a violation of his religious rights, warning it would lead to “sickness and death” being brought on the locality.
Apart from Jeffs, seven other elder members of the FLDS sect have been convicted in Texas trials or pleaded guilty and have received sentences ranging from six to 75 years.
Four more FLDS members are awaiting trial, according to the Christian Science Monitor.