Warren Jeffs sentenced to life in prison after 30-minute deliberation
SAN ANGELO, Texas — Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs recorded everything he said.
Thousands of pages, written with Biblical flourish, about God wanting him to take 12-year-old wives. About those girls needing to sexually please him. About men he banished for not building his temple fast enough.
Facing his last chance to keep his freedom, Jeffs didn't say a word.
He was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for sexually assaulting one of his child brides — among 24 underage wives prosecutors said Jeffs collected — and received the maximum 20-year punishment on a separate child sex conviction. Jeffs, 55, will not be eligible for parole until he is at least 100 years old.
The head of the Utah-based Fundamentalist LDS Church made no plea for leniency. He ordered his attorneys not to call witnesses during the sentencing phase and forbade them from making a closing argument Tuesday.
Less than 30 minutes later, jurors returned with the harshest punishment possible.
"He's a pervert, and the crazy thing is, he perverted his own religion," his sister, Elaine Jeffs, said after the sentencing. Nearby, police escorted her brother into a waiting patrol car.
Elaine Jeffs, who left the FLDS in 1984, watched the end to an often bizarre and graphic two-week trial that included one of Jeffs' top lieutenants and state caseworkers who rounded up nearly 400 children during a 2008 raid at the sect's Texas ranch. There were a handful of spectators as well, including a retired couple who also sat in on the Casey Anthony trial in Florida.
Despite the convictions and life sentence, Jeffs remains in control of the FLDS and its roughly 10,000 followers. His most devoted consider him God's spokesman on Earth and a prophet, but his followers were absent in court for the bulk of the trial.
Jeffs sometimes was, too. He boycotted the sentencing phase, remaining in a courthouse holding cell, and refused to answer state District Judge Barbara Walther when directly questioned Tuesday. Jeffs had represented himself during the conviction phase, and often interrupted court proceedings by contending that he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
The FLDS Church believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. In closing arguments, prosecutors rejected the idea that the sect had been targeted.
"The evidence in this case shows that this isn't a prosecution of a people," prosecutor Eric Nichols said. "This is a prosecution to protect people."
Willie Jessop, a former FLDS spokesman who railed against Texas authorities following the raid but has since disavowed Jeffs, said the heinousness of the charges has left a fractured FLDS community. He said he wants to see the towers at the Yearning For Zion ranch torn down.
"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.
"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."
Jessop was reportedly among several men — including YFZ ranch leader Merrill Jessop — who were kicked out of the FLDS Church early this year by Jeffs. When asked if he would be welcomed back to the ranch, Jessop hinted that it would depend on the residents' loyalty to Jeffs.
"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," he said.
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