ELDORADO — Abram Harker Jeffs smiled at his defense council, and one of his attorneys blew a sigh of relief from his puffed cheeks.
Jeffs had just been told his sentence for sexual assault of a child: 17 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, the lowest first-degree felony sentence yet for a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
“For crimes that occur at the YFZ Ranch, they will be held accountable,” lead Prosecutor Eric Nichols said Wednesday after 51st District Judge Barbara Walther read the jury’s sentence, referring to the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch in Schleicher County.
FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said Nichols was sore because he didn’t get “as stiff a sentence” as he wanted, compared with the 75-year and $10,000 fine sentence an FLDS member received for the same charge out of Tom Green County.
Floyd West, a rancher in Schleicher County who has attended every day of court, said he is a neighbor to the YFZ Ranch and is disappointed with the sentence.
“I felt it was a slap on the wrist,” West said. “I felt like he should have gotten a lot more.”
Because of an enhancement that makes the second-degree felony of sexual assault of a child a first-degree felony, Jeffs could have received five to 99 years or life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The enhancement says if the alleged victim is prohibited from marrying, purporting to marry or living with under the appearance of being married to the defendant, the crime become a first-degree felony.
Jeffs was found guilty Tuesday of assaulting a girl with whom he was in an FLDS “spiritual” or “celestial” marriage on May 12, 2006, when Jeffs was 34 and already legally married and when the girl was 15.
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