Polygamist Warren Jeffs Guilty of Child Rape

Jury finds polygamist sect leader guilty after only a few hours.

August 4, 2011, 3:11 AM

Aug. 4, 2011— -- 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.

Prosecutors Show Jury Jeffs Sex Tape

Texas state prosecutors wrapped up their case against Jeffs by using his own words against him: a disturbing August 2006 audio recording of what Jeffs' called a "heavenly comfort" training session with three of his so-called "spiritual wives."

Earlier, lead prosecutor Eric Nichols gave an impassioned closing argument as he summarized the evidence for the jury, occasionally jabbing his finger toward Jeffs. He urged them to convict Jeffs, who he said cast sexual acts in terms of religious principals.

One of the females was exactly 12 years, one month, and three days old when the recording was made. Jeffs was charged with aggravated sexual assault for this incident, considered a first-degree felony.

Sexual contact with his wives, Jeffs believes, revives him spiritually and brings the girls closer to God.

The recording was made at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas, owned by the FLDS. It begins with Jeffs asking the girl how she feels.

"Feels good," she responds, according to a copy of the transcript reviewed by ABC News.

"Everyone else let go of me, back away a little" Jeffs says soon after. "Please get on the other side of the bed."

"You shall learn the powers of the spirit of God as a heavenly wife should," Jeffs tells the 12-year-old. "Let the heavenly comfort hear us."

"We bless you, by the Lord, at this young age. To come to know God and his power, and feel his presence," says Jeffs, according to the transcript.

Throughout the 20-minute tape, there are periods where sounds described by the transcript as "rhythmic heavy breathing" can be heard.

At one point, Jeffs again asks the girl how she feels.

"I feel fine, thank you," she says.

Jeffs later tells a woman in the room to "face her" -- an apparent reference to the 12-year old. He is also heard saying, "want to distract her."

As the session ends, Jeffs begins to pray.

"Behold father these three ladies, innocent and pure," he says. "We thank you for these gifts and join in a prayer of oneness."

Then, Jeffs addresses the 12-year old.

"Come give me a hug," Jeffs says.

Texas Ranger Nick Hanna testified the recording was found when Jeffs was arrested during a traffic stop in Nevada a few weeks later. Another copy was found at the Yearning for Zion ranch when it was raided in 2008.

Jeffs' sect broke off from the mainstream Mormon Church 72 years ago. His 10,000 followers across North America consider him a prophet who serves as God's spokesman on Earth.

ABC News producer Gina Sunseri contributed to this report.

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