16 Dec 2008

Sect elder gets 30 years for molesting girl

Houston Chronicle - December 15, 2008
Associated Press

ABILENE, Texas — A judge sentenced a religious sect's elder to 30 years in prison for molesting an 11-year-old girl during a phony cervical cancer exam.

Yedidiyah Hawkins, 41, a House of Yahweh elder, faced a maximum penalty of life in prison after being convicted in October of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Hawkins earlier decided that a judge would assess the punishment if jurors found him guilty.

Hawkins has no medical training but used a gynecological medical instrument to examine the girl at a home in 2005, according to trial testimony. A former House of Yahweh member testified that Hawkins actually was worried the girl was not a virgin.

Some defense witnesses testified at last week's sentencing hearing that they never saw Hawkins abuse children. Several became emotional and teary when pleading for leniency.

"We need him," Erica Hawkins, a teenage sect member, told state District Judge John Weeks.

"I know and believe him to be innocent. ... He would never do anything like that," former sect member Meleana Segura said.

But Callahan County District Attorney Shane Deel read some of Hawkins' jailhouse letters showing a growing obsession with another young House of Yahweh member he has chosen as his fifth bride, Deel said.

"He not only abused ... (this victim) with the speculum he bought from a sex toy Web site — he's got an eye on another girl. He's got four wives, all on welfare because he doesn't support them, and he wants to add the girl," Deel said.

Defense attorney C. Tony Wright told the judge that Hawkins has turned his troubled childhood into a useful adulthood but is being vilified because of his religious beliefs.

"He is capable of doing good and deserves a sentence on the low end of the guideline," Wright said, suggesting five to six years, before the sentencing Wednesday.

Hawkins' other charges — including aggravated perjury, indecency with a child and bigamy — will remain pending until his appeals on this case are exhausted, Deel said.

The sect's leader, self-proclaimed prophet Yisrayl Hawkins, faces trial next year on bigamy and child labor charges. He is accused of having more than 20 wives, performing polygamous weddings and forcing about 40 children to work at his 44-acre compound in rural Clyde near Abilene. Hundreds of his followers have legally changed their last names to Hawkins.

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