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Judge replaced in bigamy trial of former FLDS sect leader Wendell Nielsen • Friday March 2, 2012

Religion News Blog — The bigamy trial of a former FLDS sect leader will get a new judge.

Matthew Waller reports in the San Angelo Standard-Times

Wendell Loy Nielsen, 71, the former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with three counts of felony bigamy. He faces two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

State District Judge Barbara Walther has been the judge for Nielsen’s case, but she will be replaced for the March 21 trial in Midland by 118th District Senior Judge Robert H. Moore III.

Walther has been the judge presiding over the trials of other FLDS members who have undergone prosecution because of evidence collected during an April 2008 raid on the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado.

FLDS members have frequently tried to have Walther removed, saying she is biased. They cited as reasons her signing warrants that led to the YFZ Ranch raid and the possibility that she believed FLDS members threatened her.

Nielsen was among twelve men who were indicted after the raid.

Unlike the other sect members, Nielsen was not accused having married underage girls. He was instead charged with three felony counts of bigamy for marrying women ranging from 43 to 66 years old. Those felonies carry a maximum penalty of two to 10 years in prison on each count.

While the other men who have stood trial thus far received prison sentences, Nielsen last October pleaded no contest to three counts of third-degree bigamy and was sentenced to 10 years probation.

Two weeks later Nielsen claimed the judge had departed from the bargain he had struck with prosecutors and imposed stricter probation conditions, including staying away from his entire family and not coming within 1,000 feet of a school.

At the time he indicated that he might withdraw his plea, which he later did.

After FLDS cult leader Warren Jeffs was convicted in Utah in 2007 on charges of rape as an accomplish — later overturned on a legal technicality — he handed over legal control of the church’s Corporation to Nielsen.

But in February 2011 Nielsen was excommunited along with several other FLDS leaders, when Jeffs — now sentenced in Texas to life plus 20 years in prison — retook his position as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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