Warren Jeffs, representing himself at the trial, remains silent for most of his closing argument. ‘I am at peace,’ he mumbled.
Los Angeles Times
August 5, 2011
SAN ANGELO, Texas — Polygamist Warren Jeffs was convicted Thursday of sexually assaulting two child brides after a whirlwind trial in which he insisted on representing himself, only to remain silent through much of the proceedings and present just one witness — a member of his sect who gave an extended Sunday school lesson on its beliefs.
The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints stood stone-faced as a verdict of guilty on two counts of sexual assault of underage girls was read. The jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for 3½ hours.
Earlier in the day, Jeffs stood mute during his closing argument, staring at the floor for all but a few seconds of the half-hour he was allotted. At one point he mumbled, “I am at peace,” and said no more.
Throughout the trial, Jeffs, 55, contended that his religious rights were being violated and that God would seek revenge if the proceedings continued.
The sentencing phase began after the verdict was announced, and Texas’ attorney general said it could take three days. Jeffs could face up to life in prison.
Prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl. Prosecutors also played an audio recording of what they said was Jeffs sexually assaulting a 12-year-old, and they played tapes in which Jeffs was heard instructing young women on how to please him sexually — and thus, he told them, please God.
The FLDS, which has at least 10,000 members, is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism and believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. They see Jeffs as God’s spokesman on Earth.
Police raided the group’s remote west Texas ranch in April 2008, finding women wearing frontier-style dresses and hairdos from the 19th century. At the Yearning for Zion compound, police also saw underage girls who were clearly pregnant. The call to an abuse hotline that spurred the raid turned out to be a hoax, and more than 400 children who had been placed in protective custody were eventually returned to their families.
But authorities brought sexual assault and bigamy charges against a dozen men from the sect, with Jeffs the highest-profile defendant. All seven who came to trial before him were convicted, receiving prison sentences of between six and 75 years.
Jeffs represented himself after firing seven high-powered attorneys in the six months leading up to his trial. He refused to give an opening statement as the case began, only to launch into a 55-minute sermon defending polygamy while objecting to a witness. He refused to cross-examine the state’s witnesses.
After the prosecution rested, Jeffs rose for a surprising opening statement in which he compared his plight to that of Mormon leader Joseph Smith Jr. and America’s civil rights movement of the 1960s.