Warren Jeffs sentenced to life in prison after 30-minute deliberation
Prosecutors suggested that the polygamist leader told the girls they needed to have sex with him — in what Jeffs called "heavenly" or "celestial" sessions — in order to atone for sins in his community. Several times in his journals, Jeffs wrote of God telling him to take more and more young girls as brides "who can be worked with and easily taught."
FBI agent John Broadway testified that fathers who gave their young daughters to Jeffs were rewarded with young brides of their own. Girls who proved reluctant to have sex with Jeffs were sent away, according to excerpts from Jeffs' journals that prosecutors showed to the jury.
Police raided the group's remote Yearning for Zion ranch in West Texas in April 2008, finding women dressed in frontier-style dresses and hairdos from the 19th century as well as seeing underage girls who were clearly pregnant. The call to an abuse hotline that spurred the raid turned out to be a hoax, and more than 400 children who had been placed in protective custody were eventually returned to their families.
After the sentencing, Willie Jessop, who had served as a spokesman for the FLDS Church following the raid on the YFZ ranch, was asked if he'd return to the ranch.
"I've never lived at the ranch. I will go back there long enough to make sure those guard towers come down and the people are there because they want to be there and not because they're forced to be there," he said in a video posted by a San Angelo Times reporter.
"I want to make sure that every mom down there has their cellphones and they have Internet and that they have choices — the same choices that I enjoy and you enjoy as an American. And if those choices are removed by some totalitarian authority that's going on here today yeah, I'll be back," he said.
Jessop has not served as the church spokesman since he was reportedly among 30-35 men — including YFZ ranch leader Merrill Jessop — who were kicked out of the FLDS Church early this year by Jeffs, and has since disavowed the leader.
When asked if he would be welcomed back to the ranch, Willie Jessop hinted that it would depend on the residents' loyalty.
"It depends on if you're part of this kind of authority, no. If you're part of what the mothers and children and people I've always represent and will represent, I'll say I'll be welcomed back."
Jeffs is the eighth FLDS man convicted since the raid on the YFZ ranch, in the town of Eldorado. Previous sentences ranged from six to 75 years in prison.
The church's traditional headquarters is along the Utah-Arizona border, but it established the Texas compound in 2004. Jeffs once faced criminal charges in Arizona and was convicted of accessory to rape in Utah in 2007. But that was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court and he was extradited to Texas in December.
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