August 10th, 2011
02:20 PM ET

Warren Jeffs’ life sentence raises questions about future of breakaway sect

By David Fitzpatrick and Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - As he begins serving a life sentence in the Texas State Prison system, Warren Jeffs still maintains titular control over his estimated 10,000 fundamentalist followers in Arizona, Utah and Texas. But how long that control will endure is anyone’s guess.

Jeffs was convicted by a jury in San Angelo, Texas last week on two counts of sexually assaulting children. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to life in prison on one count and 20 years in jail on the other.

He was shaved bald and will be processed into the prison system in the next 10 days, according to a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

A fundamentalist Mormon polygamy primer

Even while awaiting trial in two small county jails in Texas, authorities said Jeffs was able to effectively remain in charge of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by using jail telephones to communicate with followers.

Sheriffs in both counties told CNN that Jeffs had spent up to $3,000 a month in phone cards purchased by his acolytes.

Officials who monitored the calls said Jeffs would preach lengthy Sunday sermons, excommunicating those who failed to follow his instructions.

But as a convicted sex offender, Jeffs will be able to telephone only 10 people a month, and those people must be pre-registered on a visitors’ list, according to Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Clark says those calls will be limited to 15 minutes each - or a total of 240 minutes per month.

As for who might take his place as head of the breakaway Mormon sect, experts who have followed Jeffs for years say it’s unclear.

One potential candidate is Willie E. Jessop, a former close aide to Jeffs, who told CNN earlier this year that Jeffs had lost legitimacy because of the sexual abuse charges against him.

“We wanted him so bad to be good that we were willing to condone his dereliction of people,” Jessop told reporters in Texas after Jeffs’ convictions. “We built this golden calf. Now, we have to decide: Do we love God or do we love the golden calf?”

Jessop recently said he’s not interested in assuming the job of leader, but some FLDS experts doubt he’d refuse the role.

Private investigator Sam Brower, who has followed the FLDS for nearly a decade, says that Jeffs’ younger brother, Lyle, could become the next so-called prophet of the FLDS.

“Lyle Jeffs is Warren’s main man,” Brower recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He’s the guy who’s going to be next. He’s already taking over.”

According to Anne Wilde, a spokeswoman for Principle Voices, a Utah-based organization that educates the public about polygamy, the decision about who becomes the next prophet of the FLDS Church is Jeffs' alone.

In fundamentalist Mormon groups, the senior member of a priesthood council traditionally assumes the position of prophet, Wilde said.

But it didn’t work that way when Jeffs took over. Wilde said Warren Jeffs assumed the role of FLDS prophet when his father, Rulon Jeffs, fell ill and later died.

“I’ll be very surprised if he steps down because he’s in prison,” Wilde said of Warren Jeffs. “My guess is he’ll try to maintain control through someone else on the outside, at least for a while.”

If Jeffs were to appoint someone, she thinks it would be his brother Lyle, though she worries control by him might mean more of the same.

“He’s very similar in terms of his power and control issues,” she said.

Brower, the private investigator, says most FLDS members in Arizona and Utah are unaware of the details of Jeffs’ Texas trial, largely because he instructed them not to use the internet, watch television or listen to the radio during the proceedings.

Many followers, Brower said, had been told the trial was a sham.

But members of the FLDS Church are not as sheltered and out-of-the-loop as many people think, said Ken Driggs, a Georgia attorney has written extensively about the FLDS church and who counts many of its members as friends

Since 1988, Driggs has been in and out of the FLDS community, speaking to members often, mailing them articles and answering their questions.

When he last visited the community in Colorado City, Arizona, in May, he said everyone was “still hopeful” that Jeffs would beat the charges against him, but he warned them that they needed to start thinking ahead.

Since last week’s convictions, Driggs said, “There’s a great sadness and depression.”

“They’re in a grieving process. Something important to them has died,” said Driggs, a sixth-generation practicing Mormon and has two generations of polygamists in his family tree.

“It will take them a while to adjust to a new reality,” he said. “But they’re not going to dissipate and wander off to join other groups. At some point they will coalesce around new leadership.”

Leaders of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have repeatedly disavowed Jeffs and say his group of roughly 10,000 followers in no way represents their religion.

The official LDS church banned polygamy more than a century ago.

The LDS Church ended the practice of plural marriage, how Mormons refer to polygamy, in 1890. Various break-away groups of fundamentalist Mormons continue the practice; the FLDS Church is just one of them. There are also independent families built around plural marriages.

All told there are about 38,000 people, mostly in the western U.S., who count themselves as fundamentalist Mormons, according to Wilde, the Principle Voices spokeswoman.

And those like her, who have nothing to do with the FLDS Church, are adamant that they not be lumped with Jeffs’ followers.

“Please don’t paint us with the same brush,” said Wilde, 75, who is “relieved” by the latest turn in the Jeffs saga.

“I’m glad that he will be put away so that he can’t repeat those vicious crimes,” she said. “It’s too bad he can’t give back the lives to these poor girls.”

Officials in both Utah and Canada also say they will begin active investigations into other allegations against Jeffs, using evidence introduced at trial in Texas.

Canadian authorities told CNN that once the Texas trial was over, they would begin gathering evidence of a sex-trafficking ring from an FLDS compound in British Columbia to FLDS enclaves in both Arizona and Texas.

As for Jeffs’ long prison sentence, Brower said that many FLDS members will use it as an example of “martyrdom,” which could ensure that he at least remains a figurehead of the sect.

soundoff (208 Responses)
  1. Аntona Evann

    What i don't understood is actually how you are not actually much more well-liked than you may be now. You're so intelligent. You realize thus significantly relating to this subject, made me personally consider it from numerous varied angles. Its like women and men aren't fascinated unless it’s one thing to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs excellent. Always maintain it up!

    July 25, 2012 at 4:17 am |
  2. houses for sale st louis

    I blog quite often and I truly appreciate your content. This article has truly peaked my interest. I am going to book mark your website and keep checking for new details about once per week. I subscribed to your RSS feed too.

    March 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  3. radicalnessification

    Wow, some people really do believe in all this nonsense. I am sorry, but the FLDS and their beliefs are absolutely absurd. Believe in this stuff all you want, but do not dare question me for not. Basing one's philosophy on a pyramid scheme, like Mormonism, is idiocy. I think most religious adherents do not believe in all of this stuff, deep down. It is why believers are always the first to get mad, at anything and everything.

    I wish no violence on any of these people, even the most strict follower. You have to remember that most fundamentalists have been birthed into their beliefs. Mormon, Christian, or Muslim children do not exist, it is their parents and communities that always make that decision.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  4. OregonTom

    This is what following a religion gets you. Think for yourself it works out great.

    August 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Elder Bruce R. Kimball jr.

      These are all lies spread by the LDS Church and their agent of lies. The Prophet Warren Jeffs never married anyone that was under age.

      The LDS Church and their army of paramilitary missionaries and ex FBI agent have spent the last 20 years doing everything they can to stomp out the Lords true church. They are embarrassed by their history.

      They own tv and radio stations. They have over 1,000 websites under many different names were the infiltrate as Christians to spread falsehoods about us in the FLDS Church. We are a humble people who want to practice our religion in peace. Do we knock on your door at 8am Saturday morning trying to convert you? NO!

      Do not Belive these empty suits that spread the words of Satan. They want you to join there religion, but do they tell you everything they belive? They spread the rumors about their "magic Mormon underwear" these are not true garments. They have modified and shortened their garments. We in the FLDS Church wear the true garment that Adam wore in the bible.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  5. Michael

    Jesus Christ is the eternal God, the LORD from heaven to earth come down. Mormons are not Christians. They follow a false christ. While they may not have done the crimes that this man has done, they are nevertheless enemies of God, being alienated from the life of God, which they deny in the Person of Jesus Christ, speaking lies in His name. The Lord Jesus Christ alone is the image of the invisible God.

    August 15, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      May I hand you a stone Michael?

      August 28, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • radicalnessification

      Ha! Invisible god...exactly. Ridiculous, and you know it.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  6. Tricia

    These people are rediculous........they can't think for themselves and allow this disgusting piece of garbage rule them. The lack of education of the women who are willing to sell their children to be tortured at the hands of Jeffs should be prosecuted more heavily than Jeffs. The state of Texas needs to rip these children away from this hell that these people have created. SICK!!!!

    August 14, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  7. Cain L


    Don't you know that UTA became a safer and better place when you left?

    August 14, 2011 at 6:48 am |
  8. myklds

    God forever lives.

    August 14, 2011 at 6:44 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      MYkids.. but where? As god is currently being sought in Africa, if you know of his whereabouts please let the authorities know....May be hes having tea with the pope? or a game of stone the heathen with Allah?

      August 15, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • EnjaySea

      Pretty thought, but how would you know such a thing?

      August 28, 2011 at 3:21 am |
  9. reba

    Bible reading prevents being led astray from the fact that Jesus taught one wife was God's standard. Read the bible daily!

    August 12, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • Tricia

      man wrote the bible just as man created GOD. man did this to instill fear into the common people to follow a dictated set of rules through the use of the fear of hell to control them. see the bible and religion for what it is, nothing more than a cult for ignorant.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • EnjaySea

      Daily bible reading keeps you pouring money into the collection plate.

      August 28, 2011 at 3:23 am |
  10. Jenny

    A little harsh he didn't even kill anyone??

    August 11, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Jim

      He rped 13 year old girls and allowed/demanded members of his church to do the same. His sentence is too short

      August 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Zee

      Actually, that isn't technically true. On his order, many young boys were cast out to die. Some had the luck to be dropped into towns, though even that was horrible for the uneducated youngsters, but many were just taken to the dessert. Many of the ones who didn't initially die from exposure, or kill themselves because they were permanetly cut off from their friends, family and culture, turned to drugs to numb the pain, and died in many other horrific ways. These are knows at the 'lost boys' of the FLDS, and the survivors are still trying to cope with what happened to them. Perhaps you can't lay all of them at his feet, since some did drugs, but you can place every single one that died in the dessert from exposure.

      August 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  11. robotmonkeyhands

    Morons people want to believe in something so bad they will believe anything and that's worse than believing in nothing morons

    August 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  12. nathaniel

    I could use some wives... how about me?

    August 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  13. Reba

    Anytime we put up another human being between us and God there will be failure! I don't care if its Muhammad, the Pope, a priest, Joseph Smith... Makes no difference. We don't need a man, just God. We don't need an organized religion, just God.

    August 11, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • somethingsomethingaaron

      You forgot to add Jesus into that group.

      August 13, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • EnjaySea

      You left one more thing out. We don't need god either.

      August 28, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  14. does he

    hey loinly lamb,

    have u forgotten ur meds?, just curious

    August 11, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      @ does he,

      Hello, does he or does he not? Tis good to know I am being concerned by someone other than my self! 🙂

      August 11, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  15. logikflux

    This era in religion is dieing. Soon, the majority of people are going to see the religious for what they are. Some finatical fringe group, with logically unsustainable beliefs. I can't believe somone could be connnected to the internet these days, with the world at the their fingertips for more than five minutes, and still actually believe in a magical skyman.

    August 11, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Tricia

      Religion is nothing more than a cult used to create threat and fear into the common and simple minded people willing to believe ANYTHING!!!! Sad people are so naieve.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  16. The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

    On Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:23 pm, lesbianspaghetti wrote me stating, "Once one gets past the pompous overuse of language, primarily used during the Elizabethan era.. It's frightening to think this may be your manifesto."

    Queen Elizabeth may well have looked kindly upon my Word young lady of ladyisms' ravasciousness. As for My word being a 'manifesto', I do not think of my posts as being such. I am however a True Believer of all the Gods and Goddesses within the body of manliness and womanhood concerns and it is with much pleasurabilities that GOD may wrought favorism my way by the Holy spirit which is the nothingness that envelopes all things of the 'material' kind. The imensity of GOD's Body being the immeasurable to us universes abounding toward infinitesimalness way beyond our comprehensives young "lesbianspaghetti" lady.does confound all the people and although we may never find or even never see GOD who is all creation we can only just KNOW of HIM thru our spiritual consciousness. Of GOD was manifested the Gods and Goddesses, the Sons and Daughters of GOD and thru GOD's Family (Sons and Daiughters) was all Life here created and established thru times' to evetually become mankinds' and womenhoods' lamentations.

    "Thus Saith I, the Lionly Lamb of all the Gods and Goddesses of GOD and in the Aboveness of My Word are spoken the reverences of my Faith in the Lord and King of all the Gods and Goddesses, Christ Jesus, the redeemer of all the lost souls of lusts' concerns and even those of who did find in their smallness portions of eyeing benevolencies of varied understandings in the Gospels of the New Testaments being righteously divided for Fruitions' sakes. AMEN and Amen and amen."

    August 11, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  17. jesusf'inchrist

    You people are all nuts.

    August 11, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  18. The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

    On Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 9:51 pm, 'Dolt' did post to me stating, "Lionly Lamb, you are just another Warren Jeffs in the making. Unfortunately, religious droll such as yours still appeals to some people who want to be told what to do by manipulative and deceitful charlatans like yourself."

    Your "thorn in one's eye" analogy putting me in the limelight of Warren Jeffs is an obligatorious statement of perdisciouness and you should be held accountable for you lewdness comments regarding my heteral se-x-ulaism of one-man and one-woman relations That I have been in and do so approve of religiously and even politically speaking. The appealing clause of your stated animosoties against my Word does delegate not to others who may follow my posts to be "TOLD" what to do and/or think young "Dolt". "Go with Placidness amid the noisy waste of unfoundedness always remembering the peace which can be cleaved in the pieces one finds and do so cherish one's findings for; in this moment of the times are all things made anew."

    August 11, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      LLOTGR.. postmodern dross...

      August 15, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  19. Amira

    I think all the mormons on here should be able to identify now with Muslims. While Jeffs is not mainstream and in no way represents your religion, he seems to be the new face of it. Same holds true for Islam. Osama Bin Laden,the taliban etc. Are not mainstream Muslims, and in no way are indicative of its teachings or values. Those of you making your uneducated, research-lacking comments are sadly very ignorant.

    August 11, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  20. Calin

    Do not be fooled by this man and his followers. The FLDS is NOT a good group of people. I lived in Utah for over a decade, and just finally got out. I live in Seattle now, and could not be more happy. I have been to Hilldale, UT, and it's sister city, as part of my job. Those people, spy on you when you are there, lie to you, harrass you, and even shoot at state law enforcement to scare them off. They beat their women, abuse their children, are child molesters, and even harbor child molesters of their own faith.
    It will be a good day, when the FLDS and the LDS, both finally die. Jeffs should be shot, no in prison for life. Rot in hell Jeffs.

    August 11, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Cain L

      Don't you know that UTA becomes a safer and better place when you left?

      August 14, 2011 at 6:50 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.