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Polygamy sect leader jailed for child abuse - but his cult 'will continue'

Many followers of Warren Jeffs, who was sentenced to life for sexually assaulting children, are expected to remain loyal.

Warren Jeffs in court last year
Warren Jeffs in court last year
Image: AP Photo/Trent Nelson

POLYGAMIST LEADER WARREN Jeffs recorded everything he said. Thousands of pages, written with Biblical flourish, about God wanting him to take 12-year-old wives. About those girls needing to sexually please him. About men he banished for not building his temple fast enough.

Facing his last chance to keep his freedom, Jeffs didn’t say a word.

He was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for sexually assaulting one of his child brides — among 24 underage wives prosecutors said Jeffs collected — and received the maximum 20-year punishment on a separate child sex conviction. Jeffs, 55, the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, made no plea for leniency and will not be eligible for parole until he is at least 100 years old.

“He’s a pervert, and the crazy thing is, he perverted his own religion,” his sister, Elaine Jeffs, said after the sentencing. Nearby, police escorted her brother into a waiting patrol car. Elaine Jeffs left the FLDS in 1984.

Jeffs must serve at least 45 years in prison: at least 35 years of a life sentence on one of the child sex charges, and at least 10 years on the other. However, it’s thought he is likely to continue to lead his church from behind bars.

“The vast majority are just not going to leave,” Atlanta-based polygamy historian and writer Ken Driggs said. “They’ve got family ties and marriage ties and a culture deeply rooted in their faith.”

Followers of Jeffs’ Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are likely to still revere him as a prophet, despite evidence presented in the Texas case that he had sex with girls from the sect as young as 12, former church members and experts say.

There was no mass exodus in 2007 after Jeffs’ conviction on Utah sex assault charges. Most members remained loyal. As he spent almost five years in various jails, Jeffs continued to spiritually direct the faith, counsel followers and lead Sunday services by phone.
His legal grip on the church also remains strong.

During the trial, prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old. Prosecutors suggested that the polygamist leader told the girls they needed to have sex with him — in what Jeffs called “heavenly” or “celestial” sessions — in order to atone for sins in his community.

Read more: Polygamist leader heard on tape training child brides for sex >

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Associated Press

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