Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted on two counts of child sexual abuse. The jury took only half an hour to send down the maximum sentence for Jeffs’ crimes, which included sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl whom he took as one of his “brides.”
Jeffs’ trial, which began with his decision to fire his lawyers and represent himself, was swift. The prosecution played an audiotape of Jeffs having sex with his 12-year-old “bride” in the FLDS Yearning for Zion ranch’s temple. They also presented DNA evidence that Jeffs was the father of a 15-year-old girl’s child. Jeffs frequently interrupted proceedings with declarations that he was being persecuted for his religious faith, and at one point called down “sickness and death” on the jury.
The fate of the FLDS Church, a breakaway Mormon sect which split from mainstream Mormonism in the late 19th century over the issue of polygamy, is in question. Jeffs is still the nominal leader, but according to Willie Jessop, a former FLDS spokesman who has publicly rejected Jeffs, the church is experiencing a great deal of inner turmoil.
“Everyone in the church has got to take a responsibility for what has taken place,” Jessop said. “In order for this to be fixed going forward, we have to take responsibility. This is a crisis for every single member in the church.”
Other polygamist groups used Jeffs’ crimes as a reason that polygamy should be legalized and regulated. And Jeffs certainly alienated many within the church. In prison, his access to outside contact will be severely restricted, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to continue to run the church, as he has done from behind bars in the past.
Photo from Randy Mankin via Wikimedia Commons.