Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday after being convicted of sexually assaulting two underage girls he took as "spritual wives."
Jeffs' followers have remained largely loyal in the wake of the accusations. Despite some internal challenges to his leadership while he was in jail awaiting trial, Jeffs was able to maintain control and banish from the sect anyone who questioned his authority.
Much of the devotees' persistent loyalty was based on a belief that their "prophet" would be redeemed and returned to them at the Yearning for Zion ranch in West Texas.
The Daily Beast reported that an exact replica of Jeffs' jail cell was constructed near the entrance to a recent church service -- so that worshippers had to pass by it to get inside -- and an enormous building called "the prophet's house" is waiting for him.
A former member of FLDS spoke to The Daily Beast last week about the collective state of mind among Jeffs' followers.
"People are constantly told, 'Well, he'll be delivered soon, but you're not faithful enough for his deliverance,'" Arnold Richter said. "And so, even children run around thinking '...it's because of my little sins that our prophet's still in jail.'"
Richter was excommunicated from FLDS six months ago for questioning Jeffs.
Author Cathy Scott believes that FLDS will have trouble staying intact with its leader condemned to prison.
"Seven other men in the church were prosecuted before Jeffs, and each was convicted, receiving sentences from six to 75 years," Scott wrote.
"It's going to be tough for his church, with many of the elders in prison and Jeffs sent away for life, to survive. There is no heir apparent to replace Jeff. No new 'prophet' has arisen to lay claim to Jeffs' church and its flock."
Scott hopes a leadership vacuum will permit women who she believes were victimized by the prophet to escape the sect and live freely.
In Texas, there are conflicting opinions about possible continued abuse of children in FLDS. After Jeffs' conviction, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott expressed confidence that minors were no longer in danger.
"On the information that we have, we think that all the wrongdoers have been identified and all the children victims have been identified," Abbot told Utah's Deseret News. "If we ever learn about any more evidence or information about any other children who either have been or could be harmed, we want to take swift action to protect them."
Flora Jessop, a former FLDS member who escaped a compound in Colorado City, Ariz., disagrees.
"I think the abuse has continued," Jessop told Deseret News. "And I think those children have been spirited away into isolation and we will never ever have an opportunity to protect them again."