FLDS: Keate guilty of child sex assault

Jury out less than 2 hours; penalty phase starts today

San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas/December 15, 2009

San Angelo, Texas - Eldorado - A Schleicher County jury took little time to convict FLDS member Allan Eugene Keate of sexual assault of a child, a first-degree felony.

The jury was out less than two hours Tuesday before returning with a guilty verdict for the 57-year-old resident of the Yearning for Zion Ranch.

Keate gave his attorney, Randy Wilson of Abilene, a light embrace before being led away. The handcuffs applied by the bailiff made an audible click in the silent courtroom, where a full gallery including about 17 of Keate's fellow residents of the polygamist community had gathered to witness the proceedings.

Fifty-first District Judge Barbara Walther adjourned court just after 4 p.m. and instructed jurors to return today for the penalty phase of the trial.

Keate has elected to be sentenced by the jury rather than the judge. He faces a maximum of life in prison.

The jury went into deliberation about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday after hearing closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The charges of sexual assault of a child were brought against the sect member in connection with an illegal marriage he was alleged to have consummated with an underage girl on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Schleicher County in 2006.

In his summation lead prosecuting attorney Eric Nichols recalled the DNA evidence that he said "conclusively proves beyond any conceivable reasonable doubt" that Keate fathered a child with the girl while she was younger than the age of consent.

A DNA expert testified that Keate had fathered the child with almost 100 percent certainty.

Nichols presented again for jurors his metaphor about evidence: Seeing snow fall is direct evidence of a storm, and seeing snow on the ground is circumstantial evidence.

"We're not talking about snow. We're talking about two victims," Nichols said, and he motioned to a picture showing the girl who the state says was Keate's victim with her child. "As beautiful as snow can be, as a child can be, it cannot hide the storm that caused it," Nichols said.

Lead defense attorney Wilson said in closing that the authorship of documents used as evidence for proving the venue and time of the alleged offense were uncertain.

"We don't know who prepared them or when. ... There were mistakes made," Wilson said.

Wilson suggested in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination as possibilities for the pregnancy.

Wilson said that at heart, the state wasn't looking to protect teenage girls, as teenage pregnancy is becoming more common, he said.

He said the state was persecuting a religion.

"This is basically a case of inherent fear and distrust of an unpopular religion," Wilson said. "This is holy war waged by the state."

Keate's defense team called two witnesses. Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran gave testimony first about going to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' Yearning for Zion Ranch and executing search warrants during the historic April 3, 2008, raid.

The raid happened as a result of a hoax call claiming a young woman was in danger, and law enforcement personnel took away 439 children who were later returned to their families. The state also seized hundreds of boxes of documents that, along with DNA evidence, indicated the sexual assault of several children through "celestial marriages," by which the FLDS community practices polygamy through nonlegal marriages.

The defense also called John Walsh, an expert in Mormonism with a doctorate in religious studies, drawing an objection from Nichols.

"This witness is not fit to testify as to the FLDS manner of record keeping," Nichols said.

The defense argued that former FLDS member Rebecca Musser and law enforcement personnel had been allowed to testify about the record keeping and said Walsh had more expertise than any of them.

Walther allowed the defense to question Walsh, who said the records that the prosecution had shown to jurors to indicate when and where the alleged victim and Keate had been near the time of the alleged assault were not typical church records.

Walsh also challenged Musser's testimony as to the importance of record keeping.

"It is important to record important events in a person's life?" Nichols said.

"Yes," Walsh said.

"Because what happens on earth will reflect what happens in heaven?"

"That is false," Walsh said.

He said that the Book of Remembrance and the Book of Life were spiritual metaphors and that there were no literal books of remembrance or life. He said that what Musser had earlier identified as a Book of Remembrance was "just a scrapbook."

Keate is one of 10 FLDS men indicted by a Schleicher County grand jury in November 2008 on charges of sexual assault of a child in connection with allegedly illegal marriages to underage girls. He is the second to stand trial.

In November a Schleicher County jury convicted Raymond Merril Jessop of child sexual assault and sentenced him to 10 years in prison after less than three hours of deliberation.

Jessop's conviction was for a second-degree felony; Keate faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment because the crime of which he is accused allegedly occurred after the Texas Legislature added an enhancement to the penal code.

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