A jury has found polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs guilty of child rape.
Jeffs, the leader of a radical polygamist sect of Mormonism known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), was found guilty of forcing two teenage girls into "spiritual marriage," and fathering a child with one of them when she was 15. The sexual assault charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Jeffs, who acted as his own lawyer after firing his legal team at the start of the trial, stood stone-faced as his verdict was read.
"I thought it was very ironic that Mr. Jeffs got to face what he has made many thousands of other people face," said Willie Jessop, a former FLDS member who, at one time, was Jeffs' bodyguard. "I think there is a lot of healing that has got to be done. And I think there are a whole lot more victims than this -- than the two that came out in this trial. And I think that justice was served."
Prosecutors presented DNA evidence showing Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl who lived at a Texas compound raided by police in 2008 where Jeffs ran the FLDS sect. Prosecutors also played audio recordings of a sexual encounter between Jeffs and a 12-year-old girl.
During the trial, Jeffs accused police of discriminating against the West Texas compound because his followers looked and acted differently than mainstream society.
Officials denied it.
"A sexual assault of a 12-year-old and 15-year-old girl has nothing whatsoever to do with religious persecution," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said today. "If anybody of any religious background comes to Texas and sexually assaults young girls, they are going to be investigated and prosecuted regardless of what their religious background is."
Abbott said he expects the penalty phase will take three days.
"There will be a tremendous amount of evidence showing a lot more detail to the jury," he said. "The jurors, and Texans in general, are going to learn a lot more about the background of Warren Jeffs."
Prosecutors told District Court Judge Barbara Walther this evening that 24 of Jeffs' 78 marriages were with girls under the age of 17 -- saying that is one reason why he should get the maximum sentence of life in prison and arguing that what happened with the two girls he was convicted of assaulting was not an isolated incident.
Jeffs was found guilty of one count each of aggravated sexual assault, a first-degree felony, and sexual assault, a second-degree felony.
Bizarre Defense Ends in Guilty Verdict for Warren Jeffs
Jeffs called only one witness in his defense: church elder JD Roundy, a fellow FLDS member, who read at length from the Book of Mormon. During the trial, Jeffs frequently interrupted testimony.
He ended the trial in silence, standing mute for nearly half an hour during the time designated for his closing argument.
Every five minutes, Judge Walther would remind Jeffs of the time. Spectators in the gallery exchanged smiles and odd glances. One security officer did his best to stifle a yawn.
Finally, at the conclusion of the 25 minutes allotted to Jeffs, the sect leader turned toward the jury with a slight smile and said quietly, "I am at peace."
Earlier in the trial, Jeffs had spoken for 55 minutes during an outburst prompted by DNA testimony.
"We are not a fly-by-night religious society," he said during the tirade. "We are a community of faith and principles, and those principles are so sacred. They belong to God, not to man and the governments of man."
The jurors listened carefully, but didn't react to Jeffs' words.