Religion News Blog — Illegal marriage abetting, fugitive hiding, and breaking up families — the allegations rained down heavily in the courtroom against the former leader of a polygamist sect.
Last Wednesday Wendell Loy Nielsen, the former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) was found guilty on the three counts of felony bigamy brought against him by the state of Texas.
He faces a maximum sentence of two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
But during the punishment phase more allegations have emerged regarding Nielsen’s activities in the controversial religious sect.
By Wednesday afternoon, jurors had been told about 30 bigamous wives Nielsen is alleged to have had in addition to the three he was convicted of having. The jury was shown a document listing 326 other marriages with which Nielsen was connected either by officiating or being a witness. Most of them were bigamous and 50 of which involved girls 12 to 18 years old, performed in locations from Texas to Canada.
The young brides started after FLDS “prophet” Warren Jeffs took control of the sect from his father in 1998, according to testimony at the trial.
“The ages of marriages became younger and younger,” former FLDS member Ezra Draper testified on the witness stand.
Warren Jeffs is serving a sentence at the state prison in Palestine of life plus 20 years after being convicted last year for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl, but Jeffs still retains control of the FLDS through his brothers.
Documents showed that Nielsen was part of the sect’s leadership as the move to younger brides was happening.
The prosecution also accused Nielsen of being part of kicking young men out of the church.
The state showed a document allegedly written by Jeffs that covered a meeting at which Jeffs wanted to expel someone for sins they hadn’t confessed that God revealed to Jeffs, he said.
Nielsen was present, according to the document.
The families “were essentially reassigned to men regarded as faithful,” Draper said.
Austin defense attorney David Botsford tried to make clear to jurors in questioning that Jeffs ultimately has been making the decisions.
The expelled man’s wife eventually was reassigned to Nielsen, documents shown to jurors stated.
Former FLDS member Carolyn Jessop as a witness described secret marriages that took place frequently at a Nevada motel owned by the FLDS where she worked.
Jessop knew that plural marriage was viewed as being illegal by the state, “But I was taught to follow God’s ways, not man’s ways,” she said. [...]
The state also noted Nielsen could have been part of effort to hide Jeffs when Jeffs was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for crimes involving sexual assault.
WENDELL LOY NIELSEN
Nielsen was one of 12 men indicted for crimes including child sexual assault, bigamy and performing an illegal marriage after an April 2008 law enforcement raid on the FLDS’ Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas in response to allegations of sexual assault.
He was reportedly excommunicated — along with several other FLDS leaders — in February 2011, when the cult’s jailed leader, then still awaiting trial, retook his position as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Though jailed for life, Jeffs continues to rule the sect.
Theologically the FLDS is a cult of the Mormon Church. Both groups are considered to be, theologically, cults of Christianity. The FLDS is the best known among dozens of groups of Mormon Fundamentalists.
The groups came into existence when the Mormon Church was forced to renounce polygamy – till then one of its key doctrines.
Most — though not all — Mormon Fundamentalist groups continue to practice so-called ‘celestial marriages.’ Many Mormons believe that these spiritual marriages will be valid through eternity and that the husband will live together in the Celestial Kingdom as a family with all to whom he was ‘sealed’ in such weddings.
According to FLDS teachings men must have at least three wives to be guaranteed a place in paradise.