Opening statements are expected Thursday in the trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs. Defense lawyers have suggested they may argue that his actions are consistent with his sincerely held religious beliefs.
Patrick Dove/San Angelo Standard-Times/AP
Opening statements are expected Thursday in the trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, who is accused of marrying and sexually assaulting two teenage girls.
One of the girls was under the age of 17, and the other was younger than 14, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors say the marriages were invalid and that resulting sexual contact was child molestation. If convicted, Mr. Jeffs could be sentenced to life in prison.
He also faces trial in October for bigamy.
Defense lawyers have suggested they may argue that Jeffs’s actions are consistent with his sincerely held religious beliefs.
The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion, but laws against bigamy and protecting children have been upheld against constitutional challenges.
The current trial in the west Texas town of San Angelo is expected to last a month. The prosecution stems from evidence collected during an April 2008 law-enforcement raid on the group’s Yearning for Zion compound near Eldorado, Texas.
More than 400 children were taken into custody and questioned after what turned out to be a hoax phone call to a domestic-abuse shelter. Authorities also seized a large number of documents, including marriage and birth records.