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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 September 2007, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
US polygamist leader found guilty
Warren Jeffs
Mr Jeffs was a fugitive for nearly two years before his arrest in Las Vegas
The leader of a US polygamist sect has been convicted of being an accomplice to rape for arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her older cousin.

A court in Utah found Warren Jeffs, a self-proclaimed prophet, guilty of two counts of encouraging the young girl to have sex against her will.

The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) could face life in prison.

The sect split from the Mormon Church after the latter renounced polygamy.

Mr Jeffs has been in custody since August 2006, when he was arrested in Nevada after nearly two years on the run. At the time, he was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

He went into hiding after being charged in Arizona with being an accomplice to incest and sexual misconduct for allegedly arranging marriages between minors and older men.

'Despair'

After deliberating for 16 hours, the jury in St George found Mr Jeffs had orchestrated the marriage of the girl to her 19-year-old cousin and encouraged her to have sex by telling her she would go to hell if she did not.

The only thing I wanted to do was die
Testimony by victim

Earlier, the victim testified that she had cried in despair when she was told to marry Allen Steed in 2001 and encouraged to kiss him.

The victim, now aged 21, said the couple were married for at least a month before they had sex. Afterwards, she swallowed two bottles of pain relieving medicine and curled up on the floor, she said.

"The only thing I wanted to do was die," she told the court.

Mr Steed, who has not been charged with any offence, testified that his wife had initiated their first sexual encounter.

Under Utah law a 14-year-old can consent to sex, but not if they are enticed by someone at least three years older.

Lawyers for Mr Jeffs argued that he could not have known any rape would be committed and that the victim had been too vague when she told the sect leader about her relationship problems.

Church under pressure

Mr Jeffs, who is reputed to have 70 wives, took over the leadership of the FLDS church after his father, Rulon, died in 2002.

New church built at the FLDS's compound in Texas
An estimated 40,000 people in the US still believe in polygamy

The 10,000-strong sect dominates the towns of Colorado City, in Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, less than a mile away. A compound in Eldorado, Texas, is also home to a growing community.

Members believe a man must marry at least three wives in order to ascend to heaven. Women are taught that their path to heaven depends on being subservient to their husband.

Polygamy is illegal in the US, but the authorities have reportedly been reluctant to confront the FLDS for fear of sparking a tragedy similar to the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, which led to the deaths of about 80 members.

However, observers say the church is coming under increasing pressure from authorities in Utah and Arizona.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The moment the jury found Warren Jeffs guilty of rape



SEE ALSO
US sect leader 'made girl marry'
14 Sep 07 |  Americas
US sect leader to be extradited
31 Aug 06 |  Americas
US polygamy sect leader arrested
29 Aug 06 |  Americas
Eight arrests in US polygamy sect
12 Jul 05 |  Americas
Sex claims hit US polygamy sect
14 Jun 05 |  Americas
Judge upholds Waco report
21 Sep 00 |  Americas



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