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Warren Jeffs likely to keep power over polygamist church

Warren Jeffs likely to keep grip on polygamist church
Warren Jeffs arrives at the Tom Green County Courthouse in San Angelo, Texas. AP/Tony Gutierrez

(CBS/AP) SALT LAKE CITY - Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is likely to continue to lead his church from behind bars after being sentenced to life in prison on child sex assault charges.

Followers of Jeffs' Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints probably will not  sway from their belief in him, former church members and experts say, despite evidence that he had sex with girls from the isolated religious sect as young as age 12.

The 55-year-old was sentenced by a Texas jury Tuesday and will not be eligible for parole until he is at least 100 years old.

"The vast majority are just not going to leave," Atlanta-based polygamy historian and writer Ken Driggs said. "They've got family ties and marriage ties and a culture deeply rooted in their faith."

There was no mass exodus in 2007 after Jeffs' was convicted on Utah sex assault charges. As he spent almost five years in various jails, Jeffs continued to spiritually direct the faith, counsel followers and lead Sunday services by phone.

Jeff's legal grip on the church also remains strong. Last week, the Utah Department of Commerce reaffirmed Jeffs as the head of the corporations that make up the FLDS after a church bishop unsuccessfully sought to seize control.

Elissa Wall, a former FLDS member and the victim in Utah's 2007 case, called Jeffs' Texas conviction and life sentence a "true miracle." She believes that followers have been so indoctrinated in the faith that most will likely remain faithful. Followers believe that Jeffs is God's spokesman on Earth and their path to salvation.

Complete coverage of Warren Jeffs on Crimesider