Jeffs, 55, was convicted of sexually assaulting two such wives, girls aged 12 and 15. But prosecutors said the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was known to have 79 wives. Of those, 24 were underage, with 12 under age 16, the prosecution said. Law enforcement has been unable to make contact with them since 2008.
“We’re all worried,” said Sheriff David Doran of Schleicher County, Texas, the rural desert county where the FLDS’ Yearning For Zion ranch is located. “Unfortunately, they have rights and we can’t intrude on them.”
Before Jeffs was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison plus 20 years, the prosecution showed jurors a passage in the sect’s official “priesthood records” where he had written about a “blood atonement” for one disobedient young wife. Thousands of pages of the priesthood records were submitted as evidence during the trial.
Jeffs’ half-sister Elaine Jeffs, a former FLDS member, told The Daily she has always feared that a conviction of the group’s spiritual leader could culminate in a mass suicide by his followers.
“My understanding is that they [the young wives] are all on the ranch, but that doesn’t mean anything,” said Elaine Jeffs.
She said blood atonement “means if you commit a bad enough sin like murder or adultery, someone in the priesthood can take your life in order to save you, so that you can atone for whatever sin it was.” Elaine Jeffs said such a scenario was possible, but unlikely.
Willie E. Jessop, a former spokesman for the sect, said Warren Jeffs’ young wives were shut away at the ranch and in “houses of hiding” during his trial, but he did not know what would happen to them now that Jeffs has been sentenced to life in prison.
During the trial, witnesses testified that Jeffs had raped a 5-year-old boy as well as underage girls, and coerced some of his wives to participate in group sex. Witnesses said he also took away books, magazine and television sets — anything that linked the community to the outside world — and was so despotic that he even banned the color red.
Nevertheless, many FLDS members have not abandoned their prophet. Members of the flock are building a 38-foot-tall metal statue of Jeffs at the sect’s compound in Short Creek, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, the Daily Beast reported.
West Texas prosecutor Eric Nichols said officers had attempted to subpoena Jeffs’ young wives to testify in his trial, but were only able to get as far as taping the subpoenas to the metal gate that blocks off the Yearning For Zion ranch from the outside world.
“There’s no evidence that has come out at any of these trials concerning the current well-being or location of these victims,” Nichols told The Daily.
Asked if it’s known whether the young women are even alive, he responded, “I can only speak to what’s in the evidence.”
Texas authorities raided the ranch in 2008, removing more than 400 children and boxes of documents, photographs and audio recordings that were later used as evidence of sexual abuse in the trials of Jeffs and seven other adult men who were living at the ranch. The children were later returned to their parents.
In trial evidence obtained by The Daily, a 15-year-old “spiritual wife” — who was impregnated by Warren Jeffs, according to DNA evidence — wrote the FLDS prophet an adoring letter framed by two photographs of herself. In the photos, the girl, her belly swollen by pregnancy, wears a long, blue prairie-style dress and holds up Jeffs’ portrait.
“I rejoice in Heavenly Father for the privilege to help raise one of his and your precious ones,” she wrote. “I love you and live to do your will and please you.”
(Courtesy of The Daily)