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Warren Jeffs heads to prison; niece feels vindication

August 10, 2011 |  8:55 am

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Warren Jeffs headed to prison Tuesday to spend life in prison for sexually assaulting two girls he took as his "brides" -- a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old who gave birth to his child. And Jeffs' niece, who has said she was sexually abused by the polygamist sect leader when she was just 7 years old, says she's glad her testimony will help keep him there -- most likely for the rest of his life.

"I feel a lot stronger now that I've put the man that needed to be put in prison in prison," Jerusha Jeffs told ABC News. She provided bombshell testimony during Jeffs' trial when she said her uncle had also abused her, coaxing her into sexual play by telling her she was special and that she would go to heaven if she complied.

Now in her 20s, Jerusha Jeffs has since left her uncle's church and provides counseling and assistance to other church members trying to leave that life behind.

Warren Jeffs, the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was responsible for one courtroom spectacle after another during his trial in San Angelo, Texas. The charges stemmed from an April 2008 raid at the remote West Texas ranch where Jeffs reigned over his followers as the voice of God.

Jeffs, 55, hired a team of well-heeled defense layers to fight the charges against him, and then fired them, one by one, for failing to present, in his words, "a pure defense." Then, he began representing himself, contending that his religious rights were being violated -- and that God would punish those who opposed him.

Using God as a threat was apparently a familar tactic for Jeffs. Among the evidence submitted by prosecutors were audio recordings in which Jeffs told young women how to please him sexually, and, in doing so, please God. (They also submitting a recording of what they said was Jeffs sexually assaulting the 12-year-old victim in the case.)

During his opening statement, Jeffs had plenty to say, even evoking a comparison with the civil rights movement. But in one of the most unusual moments from the trial, Jeffs stood there -- silent -- during the time the court allotted him for his closing arguments. He did little more than mumble "I am at peace."

Jurors took less than four hours to convict him last week. He was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison on one charge, and 20 years on the other, a sentence said to amount to life plus 20 years in prison.

A prosecutor in the case, Eric Nichols, stood outside the courthouse Tuesday and summed it up this way for the media in attendance: "Justice has arrived for Warren Steed Jeffs."

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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Warren Jeffs is placed into the back of a waiting car, heading to prison. Credit: Associated Press

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