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Polygamist preacher convicted of child sexual abuse

The 55-year-old leader of a religious group that practices polygamy was recently found guilty of child sexual assault charges. The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was accused of the sexual abuse of 12 and 15-year-old girls he claimed were "celestial brides."

A seven member legal team was dismissed by the defendant during the trial. The sect leader chose to face the court pro se or self-represented. Trial observers said the accused displayed a range of behaviors, from silent to sermonizing. The defendant read a statement during the course of the trial, threatening retribution against those present and preached about his right to religious freedom.

Prosecutors submitted DNA and audio-taped evidence to prove that the religious leader, known as "The Prophet" by his followers, had sex with a 12-year-old and fathered a child with a girl who was 15.

The so-called FLDS church, an off-shoot of the Mormon Church, owns a ranch in the small community of Eldorado in west-central Texas, about 40 miles from where the San Angelo trial took place. The Texas FLDS ranch was purchased in 2003, after Arizona authorities began to scrutinize the sect’s practices near the Utah border.

The conviction for child sexual abuse charges could exceed 100 years and place the FLDS head in jail for the rest of his life. The sex crime trial is the first of two on the court dockets this year for the sect leader. He goes to trial later this year on charges of bigamy.

The FLDS group leader is also charged with setting up similar religiously-sanctioned "marriages" between minor girls and adult men. Seven men, connected with the case and charged with sexual assault or bigamy, have already been convicted or plea bargained in Texas courts.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Polygamist Leader Convicted of Sexual Assault," Russell Gold, Aug. 5, 2011

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