SAN ANGELO, Texas (ABC 4 News) - Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs has been sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault of young brides.
The same jury who convicted Jeffs of child sexual assault for his marriages to two under-aged girls gave Jeffs a life sentence for both counts, plus 20 extra years.
Jeffs' conviction stemmed from marriages to two girls, one being 15 years old and the other only 12.
Jeffs fired his attorneys on the day the trial was to begin, and Judge Barbara Walther allowed Jeffs to represent himself.
Evidence presented at trial included DNA proving that Jeffs fathered a child with the 15-year-old, and audio recordings of Jeffs explaining sexual activity to one of the girls.
Jeffs is the leader and president of the FLDS sect, which split from the mainstream Mormon faith in the late 1800's.
The charges against Jeffs came from a raid at the FLDS compound in 2008, when federal and local law enforcement agents rushed into the settlement located just outside of El Dorado, a small community in central Texas.
Officers were acting on a tip that young girls were being forced to marry older men against their will. That tip later proved to be a hoax, but evidence gathered from the raid prompted the charges against their leader who was already in Utah facing similar charges. Jeffs was convicted of rape as an accomplice in 2007, but that verdict was later vacated by the Utah Supreme Court on a technicality.
Jeffs was later extradited to Arizona for similar charges, but those charges were later dropped.
On Tuesday, former polygamous wife and FLDS member Carolyn Jessop spoke to ABC 4 in reaction to the sentence, saying, "I'm thrilled to finally see justice."
Jessop said she has been trying to get justice for years and to see the FLDS leader behind bars is "a relief."
Jesson said there is still a big worry within the secretive FLDS communities in Hildale (Utah), Colorado City (Ariz.), and El Dorado (Texas), especially concerning FLDS leaders who have been in control since Jeffs' legal troubles began.
Jessop said that more than 14,000 FLDS members have sworn oaths of secrecy concerning leadership issues and other practices within the religious sect.
Jessop said Warren's brother Lyle Jeffs is now in control of the group.
Elissa Wall, the victim in the case under which Jeffs was convicted (later vacated) in Utah, also spoke to ABC 4.
Wall worries that the prison sentence won't be the end of suffering for little girls within the polygamist sect.
"We can’t vilify these people," said Wall. "We're going to have to realize that most of these people don’t know what abuse is. We have to educate them."
Of Jeff's teenage victims in Texas, Wall said, "They don’t know what happened to them is wrong. I’m sure they are in utter devastation because they feel they are a party to Warren being convicted and I can’t imagine what they are going through."