SAN ANGELO, Texas — Hate mail from a polygamist sect makes West Texas lawmaker Harvey Hilderbran happy and proud.
The state representative is probably in for more feedback from members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He authored new laws in 2005 to send a message to those who built and inhabit a small FLDS city in his district: Don’t mess with Texas.
The trials of 10 men from the Yearning for Zion Ranch compound near Eldorado are putting to test Hilderbran’s laws. But the Kerrville Republican already knew he wasn’t a favorite of the usually reclusive sect members who seek, for purity’s sake, to keep themselves separate from the world.
“They pray against me all the time,” Hilderbran said with a chuckle. “I just couldn’t be more prouder of being their enemy. I’m going to protect girls.”
The laws sharpened the teeth of state laws against sexual assault, underage marriage, bigamy and legally unrecognized “celestial” or “spiritual” marriages popular with the FLDS.
The amped-up statutes led to a sentence of 33 years in prison 13 more than under old laws for Allan Eugene Keate’s conviction of sexual assault Dec. 17 in a Schleicher County courtroom.
Keate could have gotten life in prison because of a bigamy enhancement in Hilderbran’s law. The maximum under the old statutes? Twenty years in prison and a fine as much as $10,000.
In the first FLDS trial this fall, Raymond Merril Jessop was also convicted of sexually assaulting a girl he’d taken as a spiritual wife, but he faced a lighter punishment.
A jury sentenced him to 10 years out of a maximum of 20 in prison. He was tried on a second-degree felony not a first-degree as Keate was — because his crime took place before Hilderbran’s laws, approved in 2005, became effective.
Eight more trials are scheduled through December 2010, and get tough on polygamists laws instigated after Hilderbran got wind of massive FLDS construction on the 1,700-acre ranch a few miles from Eldorado will touch many if not most defendants.
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