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Jeffs guilty verdict elicits strong reactions



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SALT LAKE CITY -- He took control of the FLDS Church nearly a decade ago. Since that time, tales of underage sex and bigamy have seeped out of the community.

Now, three years after a raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, a jury has handed down his fate: Warren Jeffs has been found guilty of sexually abusing two children.

The Jeffs case is being watched around the world, and particularly close here in Utah. Jeffs was convicted in Utah on charges of rape as an accomplice, but that conviction was overturned.

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Former child bride calls verdict 'miracle'Elissa Wall, a former child bride who was the state's star witness in that criminal case against Jeffs, says she felt relief upon hearing the verdict.

"It has (been) a long time coming," she said. "It's relief to see that possibly now we can begin to free the shackles that are on these people and we can begin to see lasting change within this closed community and others."

While Wall hopes this precedence will "resonate through the times," she knows there is still a long way to go before the marrying of child brides comes to an end.

"The reality we have to face is, it's taken a lot of effort and time to get us where we are today," she said. "We have to go through the same amount of effort to reverse these issues, and it's going to take work, it's going to take time, it's going to take educating the people. We are going to continue."

Wall's attorney Roger Hoole was not surprised to hear the verdict, saying Jeffs would not have been acquitted "under any circumstances."

"The evidence was just too compelling," Hoole said. "I think as a result of him representing himself, the people have been able to see what is going on in his mind."

Hoole says that under the laws in Texas, with Jeffs facing up to 99 years in prison, "it would not surprise me to see him never leave Texas."

Shurtleff delighted with verdict

Utah's Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he's delighted with the conviction of Warren Jeffs in Texas. Shurtleff has been waiting for this kind of verdict against Jeffs for 10 years, ever since the state served its first warrants against him in 2001.

"He obviously believed he was above all that. He was above the court. He always thought of himself as not answerable to any earthly authorities, and now he is," Shurtleff said.

Shurtleff says he's willing to go through another trial against Jeffs, and he feels he has a solid case.

"Although he wasn't holding her down physically, our argument was that he made it happen, he forced it to happen," he said.

But if Jeffs is facing up to life in prison in Texas, they have to decide if another trial in Utah is worth it.

Polygamist groups denounce Jeffs

Before the trial, a coalition of Utah polygamous groups announced it is denouncing the alleged acts of sexual assault that have surfaced during the Texas trial of sect leader Warren Jeffs.

The Principle Rights Coalition represents five polygamous churches, along with others who practice polygamy but are unaffiliated with any church.

In a statement Thursday, the coalition says its members are devastated that abuse would be perpetrated under the cloak of their religion.

The statement was issued as a Texas jury is deliberating in Jeffs' trial on sexual assault charges for alleged wrongdoings with underage girls from his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Jeffs pleaded not guilty to the charges and represented himself.

The coalition says it supports the prosecution of those from polygamous groups who perpetrate crimes on children.

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Story written with contributions from the ksl.com news team and The Associated Press.

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