Warren Jeffs sentenced to life in prison after 30-minute deliberation

By Paul J. Weber

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 9 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Deric Walpole, lead defense attorney for Warren Jeffs, walks back to his car at the end of court proceedings, Monday, Aug. 8, 2011, in San Angelo, Texas. Both the prosecution and defense rested their case in the penalty phase of the sexual assault trial of Jeffs, who was convicted on two counts of sexual assault of a child. Jeffs could get up to 119 years in prison.

San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove, Associated Press

SAN ANGELO, Texas — A Texas jury has sentenced polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs to serve life in prison  for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides.

The head of the Utah-based Fundamentalist LDS Church stood quietly as the decision of the Texas jury was read Tuesday. He received the maximum sentence on both counts.

The jury deliberated less than half an hour.

Prosecutor Eric Nichols had asked the jury for a life sentence, saying the case was "a prosecution to protect people."

The 55-year-old Jeffs, who had insisted on acting as his own attorney during the earlier part of the trial, was convicted Thursday. He walked out of the sentencing phase in protest after reading a statement Friday that he claimed was from God, promising a "whirlwind of judgment" on the world if God's "humble servant" wasn't set free.

The jury deliberated the punishment of Jeffs after the convicted polygamist leader once again refused to participate in court proceedings. He  wouldn't answer the judge overseeing his child sexual abuse trial when asked if he wanted to make a closing statement in the punishment phase Tuesday.

An attorney for Jeffs told state District Judge Barbara Walther that his client didn't want defense lawyers speaking on his behalf.

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.

Nichols referred to that in his closing.

"No, Mr. Jeffs, unlike what you wrote in your priesthood records ... we don't hang convicts anymore from the highest tree. Not even child molesters," Nichols said.

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 defense witness, a church elder who read from Mormon scripture.

The FLDS Church — a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism — believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. It 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 Nichols.

Several former members of the church have testified that Jeffs ruled the group with a heavy and abusive hand. Jeffs also allegedly excommunicated 60 church members he saw as a threat to his leadership, breaking up 300 families while stripping them of property and "reassigning" wives and children.

In an audiotape played during the sentencing phase, Jeffs was heard softly telling five young girls to "set aside all your inhibitions" as he gave them instructions on how to please him sexually. Jeffs is heard telling the girls that what "the five of you are about to do is important."

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