The long and torturous journey to justice: The criminal conviction of Warren Jeffs

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SAN ANGELO, Texas --  It has been years in the making, but in the end it took a Texas jury less than four hours, including lunch, to find polygamous prophet Warren Steed Jeffs guilty of two counts of sexually assaulting two young girls, ages 12 and 14.

The almost universally expected verdict delivered Thursday afternoon after yet another surreal day in the courtroom of Judge Barbara Walther, a day in which the state's special prosecutor, Eric Nichols, laid out a pointed and persuasive closing argument for jurors. 

The straight-forward and determined Nichols reminded the jury of the volumes of evidence presented during the last week and a half. That evidence included dozens of documents seized at Jeffs' YFZ Ranch showing how the already legally married polygamous leader took the two children as "celestial" or plural brides. It also included DNA evidence showing Jeffs fathered a child with the older of the two girls and the shocking audio tapes, one of a sexual grooming session in which Jeffs instructs several of his young plural wives on how he expects them to sexually gratify him, and finally the tape recorded while Jeffs was actually sexually assaulting his 12-year-old victim. 

Nichols concluded by calling on jurors to find Jeffs guilty.

At that point Jeffs, acting as his own lawyer, presented what is certainly one of the most bizarre closing arguments witnessed in an American courtroom.  

The gangly and gaunt 6-foot-3-inch Jeffs rose to his feet and proceeded to use his allotted 30 minutes by standing stone-silent, alone at the defense table, not uttering a single word as minute after increasingly uncomfortable minute ticked by. Jeffs at times stared at jurors and it was not until nearly 24 minutes in that Jeffs said, "I am at peace." 

The clock continued to tick.  Thirty minutes passed.  The judge then gave the case to the jury.  And Warren Jeffs' fate was sealed.