San Angelo, Texas • A jury on Thursday convicted polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he took as plural wives.
The West Texas panel of 10 women and two men deliberated about 3 1/2 hours before finding the 55-year-old man guilty of one count each of sexual assault of a child and aggravated sexual assault of a child.
Jeffs stood to hear the verdict, stared directly at District Judge Barbara Walther, then sat back down.
The same jury that convicted him will now decide his sentence, which could be imprisonment for up to life.
That penalty phase of the trial was to begin Thursday afternoon following a short break.
After the verdict, Jeffs’ standby attorney, Deric Walpole, told news reporters, "Any time there’s a loss, we are disappointed."
Walpole added that it appeared Jeffs would continue to represent himself during the next portion of the trial.
Prosecutors said they would need about two days to present evidence pertaining to Jeffs’ sentence, which can include other alleged bad acts. The verdict followed some bizarre behavior by Jeffs —the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — during his opportunity to present a closing argument.
During the 30 minutes allotted to him, Jeffs stood silent for all but the final minutes, when he muttered some barely audible words, then sat down.
Emily Detoto, one of Jeffs’ former attorneys, confirmed the one-sentence closing statement was, "I am at peace."
Jeffs had spent the first 20 minutes of his closing staring forward. He then turned his gaze toward the prosecutors and the jury. At the 24-minute mark, Jeffs uttered the four-word phrase. He sat down six minutes later.
When Jeffs’ 30 minutes ran out, Walther declared the trial concluded and ordered the jury to begin deliberating.
During his closing statement, prosecutor Eric Nichols stressed to jurors that the so-called religious persecution and freedom issues Jeffs had raised in his defense should have nothing to do with their deliberations.
"This case is not about any people, not about any religion. This case is about Warren Steed Jeffs and what he has done," Nichols said.
Prior to closing arguments, with the jury out of the room, Jeffs made a motion to allow the jury find him innocent of based on "pure religious intent." Walther denied the motion.