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Warren Jeffs found guilty of child sex abuse

Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs arrives at the Tom Green County Courthouse, Thursday, July 28, 2011, in San Angelo, Texas.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Warren Jeffs
Warren Jeffs arrives at the Tom Green County Courthouse July 28, 2011
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

(CBS/AP) Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs has been convicted by a Texas jury on child sexual assault charges in a case stemming from two young followers he took as brides in what his church calls "spiritual marriages."

The 55-year-old head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stood stone-faced as the verdict was read.

The charges came after a massive 2008 raid of the church's remote West Texas ranch. Jeffs faces up to life in prison.

A forensic analyst testified that Jeffs was an almost certain DNA match to the child of a 15-year-old mother. Jeffs also was accused of assaulting a 12-year-old girl.

Police had raided the group's remote West Texas ranch in April 2008, finding women dressed in frontier-style dresses and hairdos from the 19th century as well as seeing underage girls who were clearly pregnant. The call to an abuse hotline that spurred the raid turned out to be a hoax, and more than 400 children who had been placed in protective custody were eventually returned to their families.

But authorities brought charges against several men from the group, with Jeffs by far the highest-profile defendant.

Jeffs has claimed he was the victim of religious persecution. The FLDS, which has at least 10,000 members nationwide, is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism. The church believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven and that Jeffs is God's spokesman on earth.

Prosecutors relied heavily on information found during the raid on the compound and after a traffic stop in Nevada in 2006, when Jeffs was arrested. Much of the material was discovered in a vault at the end of a secret passageway in the temple and another vault in an annex building.

Jeffs represented himself after firing seven attorneys in the six months leading to the trial. He broke his courtroom silence with an objection marked by a nearly hourlong speech defending polygamy, and twice threatened the judge and the court with warnings of punishment from God.

Eleven other FLDS men were charged with crimes including sexual assault and bigamy. All seven of those who have been prosecuted were convicted, receiving prison sentences of between six and 75 years.

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