A Texas jury convicted the polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs of child sexual assault yesterday, in a case stemming from two young followers he took as brides in what his church calls “spiritual marriages”.
The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stood stone-faced as the verdict was read.
Jeffs, who acted as his own lawyer, stood mostly mute for his closing argument, staring at the floor for all but a few seconds of the half-hour he was allotted. At one point he mumbled, “I am at peace,” and said no more.
Jeffs, 55, had claimed his religious rights were being trampled on and that God would seek revenge if the trial continued. He now faces up to life in prison.
The sentencing phase of the trial began after the verdict was announced, and Texas’ attorney-general said it could take three days.
Prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old.
The church, with at least 10,000 members, is a radical offshoot of Mormonism and believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. They see Jeffs as God’s spokesman on Earth.
Police had raided the group’s West Texas ranch in April 2008, finding women dressed in frontier-style dresses and hairdos from the 19th century as well as seeing pregnant underage girls.