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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. Grigory Dashevsky

    for all 1 0000 sect members we have to build a large mental hospital or it will be to late..{.Remember Waco and another places...}

    August 10, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  2. Grigory Dashevsky

    for all 10000 sect members we have to build a large mental hospital or it will be to late..{.Remember Waco and another places...}

    August 10, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  3. Ron

    Jeffs has quite the ego. Why would he not think he could run things from prison?
    ... those in power fear losing that power. Just look around.

    August 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  4. Larry L

    Onw would hope the fellow inmates in prison show Mr. Jeffs their "love" of child molestors. In the old days Texans would have used a tree and a rope to administer his punishment.

    August 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • No:9133284

      Ahhh... the good ole days. When everyone could enjoy a good lynching. (well almost everyone.)

      August 10, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  5. timd

    I wonder if he gets to wear his magic mormon undies in the big house?

    August 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • RLP1509

      Another idiot!!!

      August 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • JBo

      I hope so.

      August 10, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • No:9133284

      timd
      I wonder if he gets to wear his magic mormon undies in the big house?
      ------–
      RLP1509
      "Another idiot!!!"
      ----–
      Are you saying that Mormons don't have undergarments with special symbols that are supposed to "protect" them?

      August 10, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • jen

      Mormons DO wear special underwear. I know this because I asked a mormon about it.

      August 10, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  6. Former AZ resident

    Their Utah/AZ domain has been raided before and it got quite ugly. Kids were the victims back then, as well.

    August 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  7. timd

    I really hope that Mitt Romney takes over for Jeffs. He seems like a natural for it.

    August 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • ALL TRUTH

      that's some funny chit!

      August 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  8. JBo

    Mitt Romney?

    August 10, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • RLP1509

      Idiot!!! Mitt Romney is in no way a part of the FLDS. When are you people going to understand this very simple principle?? FLDS or any other polygamist sect DOES NOT equal The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mr Jeffs is not and never has been and won't ever be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

      August 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • JBo

      He can convert can't he?

      August 10, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • JBo

      convert?

      August 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • heynow

      @ RLP: I think your magic undies are in a bunch.

      August 10, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      RLP1509

      Idiot!!! Mitt Romney is in no way a part of the FLDS. When are you people going to understand this very simple principle?? FLDS or any other polygamist sect DOES NOT equal The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mr Jeffs is not and never has been and won't ever be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

      -----------
      LDS has a current prophet like FLDS. FLDS believes in the same mormon bible as lds. FLDS is just the old unchanged version of LDS. FLDS is just old school mormonism and shares the same wierdness lds does. Other than a few tweaks, romney is the the same.

      August 10, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  9. Henk V

    Who will lead the sect? I expect an advertisement soon in 'national pedophile weekly', offering great job perks.

    August 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  10. person

    Mormonism is a failed religion, anyone who actually reads the bible or simply knows history knows that the book of Mormon and those affiliated in church organizations therein have failed to understand the truth. this will serve as a reminder to other Mormons and perverted sects of Christianity that they need to repent and call upon their maker for forgiveness.

    August 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • End All Religion

      I hate to break it to you, but ALL religion is dying. Science and technology trump the bible every time and have continuosly proven it wrong. Religion was just a way for ancient people to explain the way the world works. We don't need it anymore. If it weren't for religion–especially Islam and Christianity–we would be 1000 years ahead of where we are now. It is people like you and Jeffs that are the cause of all mankind's problems.

      August 10, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  11. BobZemko

    He looks more and more like a David Koresh every day. Wonder what would happen if the authorities raided their domain.

    August 10, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  12. Bo

    Bet, if Lyle takes over, it won't be in Texas–"You don't mess with Texas." And, by the way, I don't think he needs that much phone time. Half that time is too much!

    August 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  13. Pinky

    I really wish someone would do a fly over of this place and drop leaflet's telling these people the truth.Not sure it would do any good, but at least they couldn't say they weren't aware of what's been going on.Warren Jeff's is right where he need's to be.God bless these poor children he has scarred for life.

    August 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Commenter

      Yes, Jeffs ordered his followers "to fight to death" if police tried entering the sacred temple on the ranch and he has ordered severe restrictions on their contact with the outside world.

      Rational people must figure out a way to deal with this... "God" will do nothing, as usual.

      August 10, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  14. joannloraine

    Message for Warren Jeffs: Out of the violence, torture, and destruction which you have perpetrated against those who were the most vulnerable, you have created your own personal Hell. You will not escape this Hell until you surrender your dark, twisted Ego and dedicate your life to repenting for and healing the suffering you have caused. Upon the death of your body, if you have not yet faced this truth, your suffering will be a thousandfold worse than that of your victims. It is not the loving Creator who will punish you; it is your own soul that will cast itself into the Abyss in stark recognition of the horrors you have perptrated against scores of innocents. You are a worshipper of Evil in the truest sense, for you worship yourself in all your arrogant and perverse glory. The tiny spark of light left in your soul will seek to hide itself in shame for what it has done, and will commence its tortured purging for as long as it takes to wash itself clean of the filth of your life. You can ask the Creator for mercy, but the only way that you will be able to experience mercy is by finding it in yourself, and coming to terms with the ghastly reality of this life that you have lived without mercy for others.

    August 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • No:9133284

      @Warren Jeffs,
      cc: joannloraine

      ... but if you repent and say this one prayer – YOU'RE IN, BABY! no harm no foul.... well, harm and foul aside you get off scot-free. Sweet huh?!?!

      August 10, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  15. Ed

    The prophet Mohammed (age 27) consummated his marriage to a 9 year old.
    Whats the fuss?

    August 10, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Do muslims deny this....jsut curious

      August 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Commenter

      Mohammad was in his 50s (not 27) when he married Aisha, age 6 (consummated at her age 9).

      August 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      ewwwwwwwwww he probably tried her at age 6 but had to wait a little longer for her to stretch out. How do people worship such people??????????

      August 10, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 65
      Narrated 'Aisha:
      that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old. Hisham said: I have been informed that 'Aisha remained with the Prophet for nine years (i.e. till his death)." what you know of the Quran (by heart)'

      August 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Bob from Pittsburgh

      That was back in the 6 century, now is 2011.. Back then they were uneducated and uncivilized, not an excuse today..

      August 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Ieat

      not that I think it's okay. But you have to remember back then people did get married when they're 13 or 14 years old and they usually died around 30. A lot of kings and queens in many countries would marry extremely young (during tween age). It's not totally unheard of during those days. The standard is different today.

      August 10, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Ieat

      not that I think it's okay. But you have to remember back then people did get married when they're 13 or 14 years old and they usually died around 30. A lot of kings and queens in many countries would marry extremely young (during tween age). It's not totally unheard of during those days. The standard is different today.

      ----
      He married her at 6 years old...... hellloooooooo

      August 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Frogist

      And wasn't Mary like 12 or 13 when she "married" Joseph? It's all good! Right?

      August 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  16. george milton

    my guess is they will distribute his 78 wives among the other captains in his organization and continue their Muslim-like multi-queening breeding experiment without skipping a beat.

    August 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  17. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

    While Jeff's got this message, his followers will never know

    August 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  18. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

    These christians will continue to be sheep and put faith in man.

    August 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • george milton

      Just because they blaspheme Jesus in their rituals does NOT make these people Christians.

      August 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      george milton

      Just because they blaspheme Jesus in their rituals does NOT make these people Christians.

      ---
      That is your opinion but they are still christians...s u c k it up

      August 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • No:9133284

      @george milton
      Just because you violate the 'Love thy neighbor' command does NOT make you a Christian.

      August 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  19. Thanks4Justice

    Hopefully a loud message will be received by every out-of-control malignent narcissist that no, you may not abuse, manipulate and scar for life innocent victims, no matter how obscured your vision may be from your insanity. Thank goodness the justice system didn't mess this one up and I hope that freak has lots of new pals in prison and receives the same kind of respect he bestowed upon all those young girls...

    August 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Captain Nemo

      >out-of-control malignent narcissist

      these people tend to believe their own BS and be pretty "bulletproof" to persuasion.

      August 10, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  20. William Demuth

    Thankfully, Big Brother shall be listening.

    Prison phones are monitored, and anyone who conspires with him shall recieve plenty of scrutiny.

    We do not want another Jonestown!

    August 10, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      For once, I agree with William.

      August 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
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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.