Warren Jeffs
Warren Jeffs, leader of a fundamentalist Mormon sect that practices polygamy, has been convicted of sexually assaulting two underage girls. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Warren Jeffs, the controversial leader of a small fundamentalist Mormon sect that practices polygamy, has been found guilty of sexually assaulting underage girls. Jeffs, 55, married girls as young as 15 and could be sentenced to the rest of his life in prison for his crimes.

Pastor takes a fool for a client

Warren Jeffs, the controversial leader of a small offshoot of the Mormon church, called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was arrested on charges of sexual assault against minors in 2008. A raid on the Texas FLDS compound found him living with 78 wives, according to CBS, 24 of whom were 17 or younger. During his trial, Warren Jeffs fired his attorneys and decided to represent himself. Jeffs was convicted on two counts of sexual assault against a minor. DNA evidence proved that Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and had engaged in a sexual act with a 12-year-old. He could face life imprisonment.

Brother vows church will go on

Warren Jeffs’ brother, Lyle Jeffs, is among the people shortlisted to take over the FLDS in Warren Jeffs’ absence. Lyle has promised that someone will fill his shoes and the church, founded by Jeffs, would continue. Other polygamist groups, according to NPR, have denounced Jeffs and the practice of his church of marrying off girls barely past puberty, often to much older men. In 2007, Jeffs was convicted in Utah of facilitating the rape of a minor by marrying a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin, but the conviction was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court. There were 11 other men convicted of similar crimes from the FLDS compound, called the Yearning for Zion Ranch, outside of El Dorado, Texas. Their sentences ranged from six to 75 years in prison. During the trial, Jeffs, according to USA Today, repeatedly said the trial was a case of “religious persecution” and only called witnesses to discuss Mormon history and doctrine. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said, according to MyVictoriaOnline, that the trial was not about  faith but about “Warren Jeffs and his actions.”

Rarely discussed but more widespread than thought

There are an estimated 10,000 or more members of Warren Jeffs’ FLDS church nationwide, and his sect is only one of many fundamentalist Mormon offshoots. Though the television show “Sister Wives” may make polygamy seem jolly, the suburban Kody Brown clan is more the exception than the rule. According to Public Radio International, scholars from Brigham Young University estimate there are 30,000 to 50,000 people living in sub-sects of the Mormon church and practicing polygamy. According to NPR, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Muslims are living as polygamists in America. Polygamist communities are often isolated, according to Wikipedia. Members tend to marry within the community. There is a reportedly high instance of first cousins marrying and of young men being expelled from communities to give elder men access to young brides.

Sources

CBS: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/08/05/earlyshow/main20088583.shtml?tag=cbsnewsSectionContent.2

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-08-04-polygamist-warren-jeffs-trial_n.htm

NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/08/05/139021602/polygamists-condemn-warren-jeffs-sexual-abuse

MyVictoriaOnline: http://www.myvictoriaonline.com/pages/10539397.php?contentType=4&contentId=8683953

Public Radio International: http://www.pri.org/politics-society/polygamy-in-america1873.html

NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90857818

Wikipedia on Polygamy in North America: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy_in_North_America

 

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