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Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs gets life in prison

by Catherine Holland

azfamily.com

Posted on August 9, 2011 at 4:29 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 10 at 12:20 AM

SAN ANGELO, Texas – The Texas jury that convicted Warren Jeffs of sexually assaulting two young girls has sentenced the polygamist leader to life in prison.

The sentencing phase wrapped up Tuesday morning and it did not take the jurors long to return with their decision -- life in prison plus 20 years plus a $10,000 fine.

It only took the jury about three hours to find Jeffs guilty on two count of sexual assault last week. The decision on his sentence came even faster Tuesday morning. The jurors, two men and 10 women, deliberated for less than an hour.

The prosecution spent the penalty phase of the trial presenting evidence of other crimes Jeffs allegedly committed but were not mentioned during the trial.

Chief prosecutor Eric Nichols also replayed an audio tapes used during the trial. On one tape, Jeffs could be heard instructing a group of young girls on how to please him sexually. On another, he's heard actually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. That tape was the last piece of evidence the state presented before resting its case.

Additional evidence during the penalty phase came from Jeffs' own nephew, Brent Jeffs, who testified that his uncle sodomized him when he was 7 years old. Another former follower, a young woman, told the jury Jeffs molested her when she was 5.

Jeffs, 55, represented himself during the trial but did little in the way of putting on a defense. During his closing statement, for which he was allotted 30 minutes, he said only four words – “I am at peace.” That single sentence came after he had stood silently for 24 of his 30 minutes.

After Jeffs, who has continually claimed that his religious rights were being violated, walked out in protest early in the penalty phase, Judge Barbara Walther appointed an attorney to handle the sentencing proceedings. That attorney said Jeffs did not want him speaking on his behalf. Jeffs himself refused to answer the judge when she asked if he wanted to make a closing statement during the penalty phase.

Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the eighth FLDS man convicted since a raid of his Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch. His sentence is by far the most severe.

The church's traditional headquarters is in Colorado City, which is along the Utah-Arizona border, but it established the Texas compound in 2004. Jeffs once faced criminal charges in Arizona and was convicted of accessory to rape in Utah in 2007. But that was overturned by the state Supreme Court and he was extradited to Texas in December.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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