Posted by Rachel Leigh email
(CNN) - A Texas grand jury indicted polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs on sexual assault charges, and five of his followers also face a variety of charges, state Attorney General Greg Abbott said.
Jeffs was charged in the Tuesday indictment with sexual assault of a child, a first-degree felony.
A conviction on the charge could mean a maximum penalty of five to 99 years or life in prison and a fine of $10,000, said Dirk Fillpot, a spokesman for the attorney general.
Jeffs, 52, is the so-called leader and "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which broke off from mainstream Mormonism in the 1890s over the practice of polygamy.
The FLDS openly practices polygamy at its Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado, Texas, and in two towns straddling the Utah-Arizona state line: Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
Jeffs is accused in the indictment of assaulting a child "younger than 17 years of age and not legally married to the defendant" in January 2005.
The alleged victim, whose name is redacted on the document, "was a person who the defendant was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the defendant was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married" under Texas law.
The indictments, which were handed down by a grand jury in San Angelo, Texas, also charge four of Jeffs' followers with single counts of sexually assaulting a girl under the age of 17. One of the four also faces a count of bigamy.
A fifth follower is charged with three counts of failure to report child abuse.
The Texas attorney general's office was cooperating with other agencies to ensure the five others would be taken into custody, Fillpot said. Their names have not been made public, and only Jeffs' indictment has been released.
Jeffs has been in custody since August 2006, when he was arrested during a routine traffic stop after spending several months on the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives list.
Jeffs is serving two consecutive sentences of five years to life in prison on accomplice to rape charges in Utah for his role in the marriage of a sect member to his 14-year-old cousin.
He is being held Arizona while he awaits trial on similar charges. It was not immediately clear when Jeffs would be brought to Texas.
Authorities seized more than 400 children in April during a raid on the Texas ranch. The children were returned to their families after the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state had no right to remove the children and lacked evidence to show they faced imminent danger of abuse.
In May, DNA samples were taken from Jeffs as part of a criminal investigation into allegations that he "spiritually" married four girls ranging in age from 12 to 15, authorities said.
A search warrant seeking the DNA samples said marital records -- known as bishop's records -- from the ranch show that Jeffs married a 14-year-old girl on January 18, 2004, in Utah.
The records showed that Jeffs "married" two 12-year-olds and a 14-year-old at the YFZ Ranch, according to the search warrant.
One of the 12-year-olds, believed to have married Jeffs on July 27, 2006, was sexually assaulted by Jeffs later that day, the search warrant said.
The warrant made reference to pictures of Jeffs with his alleged underage brides. In one photograph, the warrant states, he is kissing one of the 12-year-olds. In another, he is shown with a 15-year-old wife at the birth of their child in October 2004.
Authorities had said the DNA samples would determine whether he is the father of the children born to underage mothers.
FLDS spokesman Rod Parker, who is vacationing in Colorado this week, had no immediate comment on the indictment Tuesday. "As far as an indictment of Warren Jeffs, I'd want to know a little more before I start talking about it," he said.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to hold a hearing on polygamy and the need for a "coordinated state and federal response," according to an agenda.
Carolyn Jessop, a former FLDS member who recently wrote a book about leaving her marriage and the sect, is scheduled to testify, along with federal prosecutors, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and the attorneys general of Texas and Arizona.