Religion News Blog — A jury today declared Wendell Loy Nielsen, the 71-year-old former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, guilty on the three counts of felony bigamy brought against him by the state of Texas.
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.
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Nielsen 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.
In addition to his legal wife Nielsen reportedly married 34 other women in what the sect calls ‘Celestial Marriages.’
Defense attorney David Botsford argued Nielsen’s marriages were never intended to be legal unions, but rather celestial marriages that sect members believed would give the women, aged 65, 63 and 43, a path to heaven.
“It’s all for a woman’s eternal salvation,” Botsford said, according to the Standard Times.
But prosecutor Eric Nichols said the unions fit the legal definition of marriage and were illegal.