Trials & Litigation

Church Leader Jeffs Convicted in Sex-Assault Case re His 'Spiritual' Marriages to Child Brides

After insisting on the right to defend himself at trial and then presenting only one witness and virtually standing mute at closing, the leader of a fringe fundamentalist religious group that advocates polygamy was convicted yesterday in a sexual assault case concerning his “spiritual” marriages to child brides.

Warren Jeffs, 55, showed no expression as the verdict was read in the San Angelo, Texas, case, reports the Associated Press. He faces up to life in prison in the sentencing phase of his trial.

The government said after the verdict that it intends to seek the maximum and will present hundreds of alleged bad acts by Jeffs over a period of more than 20 years to support its case, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Jeffs is accused by prosecutor Eric Nichols of having 78 plural wives, of whom at least 24 were under age 17 when he married them.

Among other evidence at trial, prosecutors used DNA to show that Jeffs, who heads the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, fathered a child with a girl who was 15 years old when she delivered. The church, which has some 10,000 members, is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism. Other polygamous groups criticized Jeffs after the verdict, the Tribune reports, for using religious ideology to justify sex crimes.

During the trial, Jeffs equated himself with Joseph Smith Jr., a founding leader of mainstream Mormonism, and drew a parallel between his case and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Additional and related coverage: (June 2008): “Polygamous Texas Sect Bans Underage Teen Marriages” “Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs Fires His Lawyers Minutes Before Trial; Judge Refuses Delay” “Warren Jeffs Channels Message to Trial Judge in Latest Recusal Motion: God Says Step Down”

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