Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, the head of a breakaway Mormon sect, faced life imprisonment on Tuesday, after being charged with underage sex. Jeffs was accused of sexually assaulting two underage girls he claimed as "spiritual" brides. He married the girls when they were 12 and 14 years old.
The Texas jury, which was consisted of 10 women and two men, gave Jeff a 99 year, or life, sentence. In addition, Jeffs also received a 20-year sentence for sexually assaulting another 15-year-old girl.
Jeffs, 55, who didn't say a single word during his trial on Tuesday, will not be eligible for parole until 2070. He will have to serve his prison terms consecutively.
During a raid on his Yearning for Zion Ranch in rural Texas in April 2008, authorities rescued some 400 children, who were later returned to their families after investigation and DNA tests, Reuters reported.
"Justice has arrived for Warren Steed Jeffs," said Assistant Texas Attorney General Eric Nichols, who prosecuted the case. "We expect that he will spend the rest of his life in prison."
According to prosecutors, Jeff "played a sick game of child molestation under the guise of religious ceremony".
Fathered a child
The 15-year-old girl, who was sexually assaulted by Jeffs, gave birth to a child. From the audio recordings that he used to make while speaking, it was known that Jeffs told teenage girls that they would be "rejected by God" if they refused his sexual advances.
Assistant Texas Attorney General Eric Nichols said that as the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Jeffs abused his position Saints "to victimize children, to break up families and to satisfy his own personal appetites and desires."
On the other hand, Jeffs, representing himself at trial, argued that his religious rights were being violated by the court. He retained lawyers during the sentencing phase and ordered his attorneys not to call witnesses. He also told them not to make a closing argument on his behalf. Instead, he himself made a written request for probation.
According to Texas Attorney General's office, a number of defendants connected to the sect were also accused of sexual assault of a child, bigamy or other charges.
Jeff's sect reportedly has 10,000 followers in North America. The mainstream Mormon Church has condemned the sec for promoting marriages between older men and girls.