Former FLDS president gets maximum sentence on bigamy counts

A jury in Midland, Texas, has sentenced Wendell Loy Nielsen, a former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and erstwhile close associate of its imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs, to the maximum 10 years and $10,000 fine on each of three counts of felony bigamy.

According to Matthew Waller at KCSG TV the jury did not agree with Nielsen’s defense that multiple “spiritual” or “celestial” marriages — as practiced in the sect — didn’t count as marriages under the bigamy laws because they were not intended to be legal marriages.

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 sect’s Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas to check on accusations of sexual assault.

Last October Nielsen pleaded no contest to the three bigamy charges — each of which is punishable by two to 10 years in prison — and was sentenced to 10 years probation. However, when he could not get his probation transferred to where his son lives in Colorado, Nielsen said he did not agree to the terms of his probation. He then revoked his plea and asked to go to trial.

He was convicted last Wednesday.

The San Angelo Standard-Times said that more evidence came to light during the punishment phase:

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.

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