Prosecutors will seek max punishment for prophet

Jeffs and his alleged 12-year-old bride
Jeffs and his alleged 12-year-old bride

Polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, head of the Mormon breakaway sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child involving two teen girls who he had taken as "spiritual" wives.

Prosecutors say they'll seek the maximum punishment – up to life in prison on the first count and up to 20 in the pen for the second – and will enter into evidence during the sentencing phase of his trial evidence of many other "misdeeds" – including presiding over the polygamist pairings of dozens of other young girls, as well as having taken, among his reported 78 brides, two dozen who were under the age of 17 at the time they wed Jeffs, the FLDS' spiritual leader, according to the Salt Lake Tribune – including the 12-year-old whose marriage to Jeffs formed the basis of the aggravated sexual assault charge. And apparently they'll be doing this all without Jeffs in the courtroom: After he was convicted, Jeffs told Judge Barbara Walther that he'd prefer to leave the courtroom during the sentencing – he didn't want to see his religion "derided in open court," he reportedly said. That leaves attorney Deric Walpole to defend against the mountain of evidence that Jeffs the state is expected to present.

Indeed, after firing more than a half-dozen attorneys hired to represent him at trial, Jeffs opted to act as his own counsel. During trial he failed to cross-examine any of the witnesses against him and remained mute through most of the proceedings, including during closing arguments where he reportedly stood silent for nearly 30 minutes before muttering "I am at peace." The sole witness called by Jeffs was a member of his flock, J.D. Roundy, who testified for five hours about the FLDS' religious beliefs, reports the Trib.

Prosecutors say that Jeffs married the 12-year-old while at the FLDS' compound, the Yearning for Zion ranch, outside the West Texas town of Eldorado back in July 2006, according to records that were among those seized by police during the infamous raid of the compound back in 2008. Jeffs was also accused of sexual assault of a 15-year-old with whom he fathered a child, a DNA expert testified during trial.

You can find background on Jeffs, and the FLDS in Texas, here.

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Warren Jeffs, FLDS, polygamy, Deric Walpole, Barbara Walther, Yearning for Zion, courts

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