9 Dec 2010

Trial begins for brother of jailed Mormon polygamist sect leader, state seeks enhanced penalty for sex assault of child

Salt Lake Tribune - June 15, 2010

Trial begins for polygamous sect member in Texas

Abram Harker Jeffs accused of fathering child of an underage teen

By Matthew Waller | San Angelo Standard-times

San Angelo, Texas » After about four days of jury selection, the longest thus far in the criminal trials of members of a polygamous sect, a panel has finally been seated in Eldorado to hear the state's case against an FLDS man.

Abram Harker Jeffs, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is charged with sexual assault of a child, a second-degree felony punishable by a sentence of 2 to 20 years and a $10,000 fine. However, the state plans to seek an enhanced penalty that could bring Jeffs a prison sentence of up to 99 years.

Jeffs, 39, is the brother of Warren S. Jeffs, the FLDS' religious leader who is currently serving two five-to-life sentences in Utah for rape as an accomplice based on an underage marriage he conducted.

Judge Barbara Walther of the 51st District is presiding over the trial, the sixth to be held following a 2008 investigation at the sect's Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado. The other men received sentences ranging from seven years to 75 years.

Prosecutor Eric Nichols of the Texas Attorney General's Office told jurors -- eight women and six men, including two alternates -- the state would prove that on or about May 12, 2006, Jeffs impregnated a girl who was around 15. Jeffs entered a "celestial" or "spiritual" marriage with the girl when she was 14, Nichols said, though he already was legally married in another state.

Defense attorney Brandon Hudson told jurors that documents and evidence the state plans to use during the trial should be inadmissible.

"They are all out of court hearsay," Hudson said. "Their witnesses will be pieces of paper."

Hudson said one person who will testify for the state has been paid $25,000; law officers who will testify have a motive because they participated in the raid at the sect's ranch.

Hudson said the state got documents it plans to use at the trial during that raid, which was the result of what is now deemed a hoax phone call from a woman claiming abuse.

"What has taken place is a war here in Schleicher County," Hudson said, "And Mr. Jeffs is here because of it."

Brooke Adams contributed to this story.

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