Ending perhaps one of the strangest trials in recent years -- which could go down in history as another example of why one does not represent himself in court -- a Texas jury on Thursday found the leader of the largest polygamous religious sect in the U.S. guilty of two counts of sexual assault on a child.
Warren Jeffs, 55, could face up to more than 100 years in prison for having sex with two underage girls, members of his sect whom he claimed were his brides from "celestial marriages."
Using DNA evidence, prosecutors proved Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl. In perhaps the most moving part of the trial -- several of the 10-woman, 2-man jury were seen dabbing their eyes -- prosecutors played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. They also played audio recordings in which Jeffs was heard instructing the young women on how to please him sexually.
The weeklong trial in the Tom Green County courthouse in downtown San Angelo was unconventional from the start.
First, Jeffs fired his seven-person defense team on the morning testimony began, telling the judge he wanted to defend himself. During the trial, his behavior was odd. He would sit mutely for hours, but then sermonize on religious freedoms and detail the history of polygamy.
On Thursday, he stood silently for most of his 30-minute closing argument before sputtering "I'm at peace." He even read aloud in the courtroom what he claimed to be a message from God, the Associated Press reported.
"I, the Lord God of heaven, call upon the court to cease this prosecution against my pure, holy way," Jeffs said. "I shall send a scourge upon the counties of prosecutorial zeal to be humbled by sickness and death."
The most damning evidence was the proof he fathered the child of the 15-year-old girl.
"You have heard the defendant make repeated arguments about religious freedoms," said Eric Nichols, who led the prosecution. "This case is not about any religion. It is about one individual, Warren Steed Jeffs, and his actions."
Jeffs is the leader of a sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS, which distanced itself years ago from the mainstream Mormon church. FLDS, which has at least 10,000 members nationwide, believes that polygamy brings exaltation in heaven and that Jeffs is God's spokesman on earth.
His followers call him "The Prophet," believe to be a man who can converse with God. He is also believed to have arranged copious marriages between under-aged girls and middle-aged men.
Jeffs Protests Sentencing Hearing
On Friday, Jeffs asked to be removed from his sentencing hearing in protest, after reading a statement he claimed, again, was from God. And, again, the statement promised a "whirlwind of judgment" on the world if God's "humble servant" wasn't set free.
Before the punishment phase began, and after the jurors were brought back into the courtroom, Jeffs said, "I request the full removal of myself as an objection to all that has been presented," the AP reported.
He asked, however, to keep serving as his own attorney, something state District Judge Barbara Walther said was impossible; he couldn't leave and continue to represent himself simultaneously. Instead, his standby counsel, Deric Walpole and Emily Munoz Detoto, were ordered to represent him.
"Mr. Jeffs, I know this is difficult for you to understand, but you do not have control over these proceedings," Walther said. Speaking in a slow, deliberate manner, Jeffs slowly responded, "I am ..." before Walther ordered a recess.
Nichols, the lead prosecutor, said not only does he have evidence of hundreds of other "bad acts," including that Jeffs has 78 plural wives, and that 24 of them are under the age of 17. Nichols said he also has proof that between September 1989 and July 2006, Jeffs either performed or witnessed 67 other marriages to underage girls; he has also performed or witnessed 500 other "bigamist" marriages.
Other alleged acts by Jeffs include six other acts of unlawful sex; breaking up 300 families by reassigning wives and children, and taking property; expelling young men from the FLDS to have more girls for himself and his inner circle; having "contempt for the law of man"; creating refuges to hide women from law enforcement; and evading law enforcement himself, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
For now, the question is what sort of sentence the jury will give him.