If you’ve forgotten about Yearning For Zion ranch, don’t feel bad. It’s been a year and half since this FLDS compound first became page-one news (and I blogged about it then). Well, finally, after all that time, the Texas criminal-justice system has finally figured out how to convict some of them, as the New York Times reports:

One of the leaders of a polygamist sect was convicted Thursday night of sexually assaulting an under-age girl whom the church elders had assigned to him as one of his nine wives.

A jury of seven men and five women deliberated 2 hours 20 minutes before returning a verdict of guilty in the first trial of a dozen members of the Yearning for Zion Ranch just outside this rural hamlet in West Texas.

The defendant, Raymond M. Jessop, 38, seemed unperturbed as Judge Barbara Walther of State District Court read the verdict. Mr. Jessop was immediately handcuffed and taken into custody by the Schleicher County sheriff. He smiled and nodded to several other men in his religious group, who sat grave-faced as he was led away.

The FLDS sect is no stranger to such accusations, and other members of this schismatic wing of Mormonism have been convicted of similar charges elsewhere:

Mr. Jessop is one of the most prominent members of a breakaway sect that has at least four other communities in Arizona and Utah. He is close to Warren S. Jeffs, the self-styled prophet and leader of the sect.

Mr. Jeffs has been convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape, a charge related to his role in ordering the “spiritual marriage” of an under-age girl to one of his followers. He is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges and has been charged in Texas with sexual assault and bigamy.

The FLDS are not connected with the main body of Mormons in the US, known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which gave up polygamy a century ago. The FLDS religious compulsion toward that practice may seem odd, but Mr Jessop’s defense is, perhaps, even stranger, as the Times explains:

[Jessop’s attorney Mark] Stevens mounted a technical defense, arguing that the state could not prove the crime had taken place in Texas since the evidence it had was purely circumstantial. He did not present any witnesses.

“It’s dangerous when we start trying to convict people based on documents and we are not sure where those documents came from,” he said.

Uh, OK, counsel … whatever.

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