The leader of a Texas polygamist sect that saw more than 450 of its children seized in police raid was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for his ‘spiritual marriage’ to two young girls.
Warren Jeffs, the spiritual leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, showed no reaction as the jury’s sentence was delivered after less than an hour of deliberations.
His reclusive sect was thrust into the spotlight in 2008 when Texas police raided a sprawling compound near the small town of Eldorado and seized 468 young boys and girls amid allegations of systemic sexual and physical abuse.
But the children were soon returned to their parents when a court ruled that child welfare officials had overstepped their authority.
Jeffs had been put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list in May 2006 for charges of accomplice to rape in Utah.
He was caught outside of Las Vegas in August 2006, but his conviction on two charges stemming out of the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old first cousin was overturned last year by a Utah court.
The Texas case stems from evidence gathered in the 2008 Eldorado raid.
Jeffs was found guilty Thursday of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in 2006 and fathering a child with a 15-year-old girl in 2005.
Jurors had heard an audio recording that was allegedly made of Jeffs ritualistically raping the 12-year-old girl. Prosecutors also presented DNA evidence that showed Jeffs fathered the under-aged girl’s child.
A tall, slender man perpetually stooped in court, Jeffs fired a team of Texas attorneys early on in the trial and chose to represent himself.
He gave no opening statement, but preached during the trial about how the government was violating the right to religious freedom, even submitting an affidavit from God asking for presiding 51st District Judge Barbara Walther to be removed.
Jeffs is the eighth man to be convicted of crimes such as sexual assault and bigamy through evidence found in the raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch. The other convicts’ sentences have ranged from six to 75 years in prison.
The jury handed down the maximum sentence permitted under Texas law: life in prison for the first count of aggravated sexual assault and an additional 20 years for the second count of sexual assault. He must also pay a $10,000 fine.