The leader of a polygamist sect, who made headlines in 2008 when police raided his Texas compound and took away more than 450 children, was found guilty on Thursday of sexually assaulting two young girls.
Warren Jeffs, the spiritual leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who submitted a letter to his trial which he said had been dictated by God, could now face up to 119 years behind bars.
His reclusive sect was thrust into the spotlight when Texas police raided a sprawling compound near the small town of Eldorado and seized 468 young boys and girls amid allegations of systemic sexual and physical abuse. However, they were soon ordered by a court to return them to their parents when a court ruled child welfare officials had overstepped their authority.
Jeffs, 55, had been put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list in May 2006 for charges of accomplice to rape in Utah. He was caught outside of Las Vegas in August 2006.
The Texas case stems from evidence gathered in the 2008 Eldorado raid. Jeffs was the eighth man to be convicted of crimes such as sexual assault and bigamy through evidence found in the raid. The other convicts’ sentences have ranged from six to 75 years in prison.
“It’s a unique case with regard to the crimes involved at the YFZ Ranch,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. “The veil has been pulled back on the sexual assault of so many kids.”
Jeffs was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in 2006, and fathering a child with a 15-year-old girl he allegedly sexually assaulted in 2005.
Jurors had heard an audio recording allegedly made of Jeffs ritualistically raping the 12-year-old girl.
Prosecutors also presented DNA evidence that showed Jeffs fathered the child. Jurors deliberated for less than four hours, and could now hand down a sentence in the next two days.
Jeffs showed no reaction when the verdict was read, and had said nothing but, “I am at peace,” after about 25 minutes of silence in his closing argument.
Though he gave no opening statement, Jeffs preached during the trial about how the government was violating the right to religious freedom, even submitting an affidavit from God asking for presiding 51st District Judge Barbara Walther to be removed.
Prosecutors dismissed Jeffs’s assertions that sex with children was a religious freedom.