Aug. 10, 2011 -- The niece of polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs said today that she is pleased that her testimony about how her uncle molested her helped send him to prison for life.
"I feel a lot stronger now that I've put the man that needed to be put in prison in prison," Jerusha Jeffs told ABC News.
Jerusha's testimony against her uncle revealed for the first time that she too was sexually assaulted by Jeffs, the leader of a radical polygamist sect of Mormonism known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS).
Jerusha Jeffs' testified against her uncle, Warren Jeffs, in the polygamist leader's sexual assault trial.
He was sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 45 years. Jeffs, 55, must serve at least 35 years of a life sentence on one of the child-sex charges, and at least 10 years on the other.
Jerusha, who grew up in the FLDS church, revealed in court for the first time that Jeffs raped her when she was a 7-year-old, second-grade student in the Utah elementary school where he served as principal.
"Warren told me to come sit on his lap and I didn't know why," she tearfully recalled to ABC News. "He said, 'You're a special girl' and that he would help me to go heaven. And he had a certain way of making me feel like I was special and he told me I'll go to heaven if I, for sure, just don't tell anybody."
The pattern of abuse she suffered, manipulation and praise along with the rape, is what she told the jury about during the sentencing phase of Jeffs' trial.
"I just wish everybody could feel the feeling that I felt you know, all the people that he's hurt," she said. "I wish they could feel that same feeling."
Jerusha, now in her 20s and living in the Salt Lake City area, kept her story a secret for nearly two decades while her uncle went free and continued to lead his nearly 10,000 FLDS followers who consider him a prophet who serves as God's spokesman on Earth.
"All of his rules were to be obeyed," Jerusha said. "Nothing that he did was wrong, ever."
It was only when Jerusha watched the documentary "Sons of Perdition" about boys trying to escape the FLDS church, a radical offshoot of the mainstream Mormon Church, that her memories began to flood back.
"It just sent me right back to that day, but I couldn't remember myself," she told ABC. "I just remembering being hurt and it was gut-wrenching and I got up and I ran to the bathroom and started vomiting."
Jerusha told ABC News she grew up happily in the polygamous FLDS church, where her father had three wives and she grew up with 19 sisters and brothers.
"It was never a dull moment, ever," she said. "I mean I had a really great childhood."
But Jerusha, constrained by the isolation, eventually left the church and is now a mom herself, and in school to become a nurse.
She's also helping fellow former followers of her uncle through an organization called Holding Out HELP (Helping, Encouraging and Loving Polygamists) that provides resources and guidance to former FLDS members as they transition to life in the outside world.