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Entries in Polygomy (4)

Thursday
Aug042011

Polygamist Warren Jeffs Guilty of Child Rape

Douglas C. Pizac-Pool/Getty Images(SAN ANGELO, Texas) -- A jury has found polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs guilty of child rape.

Jeffs, the leader of a radical polygamist sect of Mormonism known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), was found guilty of forcing two teenage girls into "spiritual marriage," and fathering a child with one of them when she was 15. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Jeffs, who acted as his own lawyer, called only one witness in his defense. The witness was a fellow member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints who, at Jeffs' direction, read at length from the Book of Mormon. During the trial, Jeffs frequently interrupted testimony.

He ended the trial in silence Thursday, standing mute for nearly half an hour during the time designated for his closing argument.

Every five minutes, District Court Judge Barbara Walther would remind Jeffs of the time. Spectators in the gallery exchanged smiles and odd glances. One security officer did his best to stifle a yawn.

Finally, at the conclusion of the 25 minutes allotted to Jeffs for his summation, Jeffs turned toward the jury with a slight smile and said quietly, "I am at peace."

Texas state prosecutors wrapped up their case against Jeffs by using his own words against him: a disturbing August 2006 recording of what Jeffs' called a "heavenly comfort" training session with three of his so-called "spiritual wives."

Earlier, lead prosecutor Eric Nichols gave an impassioned closing argument as he summarized the evidence for the jury, occasionally jabbing his finger toward Jeffs. He urged them to convict Jeffs, who he said cast sexual acts in terms of religious principals.

One of the females was exactly 12 years, one month, and three days old when the recording was made. Jeffs was charged with aggravated sexual assault for this incident, considered a first-degree felony.  

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jul292011

Warren Jeffs Defends Polygamy during Outburst at Sexual Assault Trial

TRENT NELSON/AFP/Getty Images(SAN ANGELO, Texas) -- After spending hours in silence at his trial, polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs suddenly cried, "I object!" in court Friday afternoon, launching into a passionate sermon defending the "tradition" of polygamy, a practice he considers the will of God.

Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, is charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child, spurred by a 2008 raid.

He's accused of sexually assaulting two underage girls in his sect and forcing them both into a "spiritual marriage."

The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. He faces a separate trial on a bigamy charge in October.

Jeffs' sexual assault trial had gotten off to an unusual start Thursday after the polygamist religious leader fired his entire defense team and then began a silent-treatment defense of his own, declining to make an opening statement, issue a plea or question witnesses.

The only time the courtroom heard from the polygamist religious leader during the first day of the trial was during a bizarre diatribe in which Jeffs spoke in sermon-like tones for 25 minutes on how his attorneys could not present a "pure defense."

During the courtroom outburst Friday, Jeffs, acting as his own lawyer, said polygamy "is not [all] of a sudden happening, it is of a tradition in our lives. And how can we just throw it away and say 'God has not spoken?'"

"We are not a fly-by-night religious society," he said. "We are a community of faith and principles and those principles are so sacred. They belong to God, not to man and the governments of man."

The jurors listened carefully, but didn't react to Jeffs' words.

"We are derided for how we dress, how we go about our laborers in a common society," Jeffs said, insisting that the Texas authorities who had conducted the April 2008 raid targeted him and his followers because they look different.

He asked state District Judge Barbara Walther to suspend the case and investigate whether his church's religious freedoms were violated, saying, "The government of the United States had no right to infringe on the religious freedom of a peaceful people."

After Jeffs had spoken for nearly an hour, lead prosecutor Eric Nichols said religious freedom does not extend to polygamy. Jeffs attempted to interrupt, and continued to do so until Walther finally dismissed the jury, ordering Jeffs to speak with defense attorney Deric Walpole, who had been asked to remain present as side counsel.

Jeffs' sect broke off from the mainstream Mormon Church 72 years ago. His 10,000 followers across North America consider him a prophet who serves as God's spokesman on earth. Sect teachings emphasize that polygamy is the key to exaltation in heaven, and that young girls and women are to be obedient to their husbands and serve them "mind, body and soul" to achieve salvation in the afterlife.

On Thursday, the prosecution told jurors they have an audio tape of a sexual encounter between the 55-year-old Jeffs and a 12-year-old girl, and DNA evidence showing he impregnated a 15-year-old girl.

Jeffs has switched attorneys frequently since his arrest. Seven attorneys have appeared on his behalf since December. The switches contributed to a six-month delay to the start of his trial.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul122011

'Sister Wives' Family Plans to Challenge Polygamy Law

PRNewsFoto/TLC(SALT LAKE CITY) -- The polygamist family portrayed on the TLC reality show Sister Wives said all along its main goal in going on national television was to gain public acceptance of its lifestyle. Now family patriarch Kody Brown, his four wives and 16 children and stepchildren are moving from the court of public opinion to the court of law, arguing that criminalizing their lifestyle is unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, the Browns are expected to file a federal lawsuit to challenge the polygamy law in their home state of Utah, where they came under investigation for violating the state law that prohibits polygamy.

Brown and his four wives -- Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn -- moved their family to Las Vegas earlier this year, in part, they told ABC News, to escape the criminal investigation.

"We didn't want this thing hanging over us," Brown, a salesman, told ABC News last March. "We went to Vegas with hopes of having a good life, preserving the family...We never did anything here at all to be rebellious, to challenge the statutes of the law or anything like that."

"We still have our family," Robyn, Brown's fourth wife, said. "That's all it boils down to."

Police in Lehi, Utah, launched an investigation into the Brown family's lifestyle last September for a possible charge of bigamy after TLC initially announced the show Sister Wives. Bigamy is a third-degree felony in Utah and punishable by up to five years in prison.

As reported by The New York Times, the Browns' purported lawsuit does not demand that states recognize polygamous marriage but asks that federal courts tell states they cannot punish polygamists for their "intimate behavior" so long as they are not breaking other laws, such as child abuse or incest.

The Browns are members of the Apostolic United Brethren Church, a fundamentalist break from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the Mormon Church -- which officially banned polygamy more than 100 years ago as Utah sought statehood.

In making their case, the Browns argue that making polygamous unions illegal violates the free exercise, establishment, free speech and freedom of association clauses of the First Amendment, and the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

The Browns have faced no allegations of incest, child abuse or child brides, despite the inquiries into their lifestyle, something that could help their case in court.

A ruling in the Brown's favor would affect tens of thousands of people in polygamous families in the United States.  

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Feb202011

Admitted Teen Rapist Gets Slap on Wrist

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ST. GEORGE, Utah) -- A follower of Warren Jeffs who admitted during the trial of the polygamist sect leader that he had sex with his child bride cousin will get off with just 30 days in jail as a result of a plea deal.

Allen Steed, who was originally charged with first degree felony rape, pleaded guilty to a charge of solemnizing a prohibited marriage, and a St. George, Utah, judge Friday sentenced him to 30 days, followed by 36 months of probation.

Fifth District Court Judge G. Rand Beacham ordered Steed to report Monday to Washington County's Purgatory Correctional Facility.

If he does not violate the probation, another charge of unlawful sex with a minor will be dropped from a felony to a misdemeanor, sparing him from having to register as a sex offender, the judge said.

Steed, who was 19 in 2001 when Jeffs married him to his 14-year-old cousin, could have faced five years in prison for each of the two charges. Had he been convicted of the original rape charge, he could have been sent to prison for life.

Jeffs, who was the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted in September 2007 of being an accessory to rape for marrying the couple and then coercing the young girl to fulfill her religious duties by having sex with her husband.

That verdict was overturned on appeal, but while Utah prosecutors decide whether to retry Jeffs, the former FLDS leader is jailed in Texas, where he faces trial in July on charges of sexual abuse of a child and bigamy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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