Polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs, 55, has 78 wives and nearly one third of them were 16 or younger when they married him.
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 sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison, with no chance of parole until he becomes 100 years old.
A Texas jury found Jeffs guilty Aug 4 of having sex with two underage girls. He forced the two teenage girls into "spiritual marriage," and impregnated one of them when she was 15. The other young wife was reportedly then 12.
However, many parents may believe it to be an honor, the holiest of privileges, to have their young daughters selected by Jeffs for marriage, said a former FLDS member.
Following the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs, who had led the FLDS community for nearly 20 years, Warren Jeffs rose to power in 2002.
The FLDS’s core principles are found in polygamy and the faith in plural marriage as exaltation in heaven. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice of plural marriage in 1890 and excommunicates members who engage in such practice, the radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism FLDS is proud to continue the practice. With around 10,000 members nationwide, it is reportedly the largest fundamentalist groups.
After firing seven attorneys in the six months leading to the trial, Jeffs elected to represent himself in court. Ranting a nearly hour long speech defending polygamy and accusing the court of persecuting him for his religious beliefs, he, calling himself as “God’s spokesman on Earth” even threatened the judge and the jurors with warnings of punishment from God.
Since Jeffs has banned television and all books except scripture and even discouraged his church members against reading newspapers or using the Internet, the members would not even know much about the Texas case and the evidence against Jeffs.
“They probably have zero contact with the outside world. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t know yet,” Wall said. “And if they do know, I’m sure they are being blamed for this verdict. It’s their fault ... they weren’t faithful and obedient enough,” The Washington Post cited Elissa Wall, a former FLDS member.
However, some former members and relatives of Jeffs remain bitter and testified against his heinous nature of crime. Click “start” to find out what some of them say about the polygamist leader: