Keith Dutson Jr. was escorted out of the Tom Green County Courthouse, his hands uncuffed, showing a pleasant demeanor despite having just been sentenced to six years in prison and fined $10,000 on a conviction for sexual assault of a child.
“None of us can presume to know the mind of the jury,” Eric Nichols, the lead prosecutor, said outside the courthouse after the sentence.
Dutson, 25, is the youngest member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be sentenced out of the seven who have undergone prosecution on evidence seized in the raid on the FLDS-owned Yearning for Zion Ranch in Schleicher County.
The raid was provoked by a call claiming abuse at the ranch, a call later determined to be a hoax.
“Keith believed he was a part of a lawful wedding,” FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said of the union between Dutson when he was 20 and the victim when she was 15.
Nichols, who has prosecuted all seven cases for the state, said Dutson’s trial revealed more about how girls are groomed through cultural forces to be married while they are underage.
All the criminal trials have been based on allegations that older men who already are married have taken underage girls as “celestial” brides as part of the FLDS practice of polygamy.
Jessop said the state is persecuting religion.
“We’re watching a tragedy of the Constitution,” Jessop said. “They did not like a religion, and they cherry-picked who they would prosecute. People don’t care, until they realize that it’s their religion next.”
Dutson’s sentence is the shortest to date. The sentences have ranged from seven years imposed as part of a plea deal to 75 years in the only previous Tom Green County jury trial. The other trials have been held in Schleicher County.
Jurors deliberated 3½ hours Tuesday before reaching their decision. They received their charge from 51st District Judge Barbara Walther and retired to deliberate at about 11:45 a.m.
Dutson elected to have jurors decide punishment. His crime is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The jury had the option to recommend probation if the sentence were fewer than 10 years in prison.
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