San Angelo - A West Texas polygamist sect member was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading no contest to sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl Friday.
Michael Emack, 59, of Eldorado, entered the plea in district court to sexual assault of a child, said court administrator Irene Devore. Under Texas law, someone younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult. Emack had been set to go to trial Monday. His attorney did not immediately return a Friday call from The Associated Press.
Emack's plea marked the third sexual assault of a child conviction for a resident of the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Texas attorney general's office. Nine other suspects, including sect leader Warren Jeffs, are awaiting trial on charges including sexual assault of a child and bigamy, Strickland said.
The ranch is run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The FLDS believes polygamy brings glory in heaven and is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
Following an April 2008 raid at the ranch, Texas authorities removed more than 400 children and placed them in foster care, alleging they were being abused because of underage marriages. Two months later, state courts found the removals unjustified in all but a handful of cases and the children were returned to their parents.
A prosecutor read a statement in court Friday that in August 2004, Emack "spiritually" married a 16-year-old girl, who then got pregnant with his child that October when she still was 16. Prosecutors said Emack already was legally married in the state of Utah and had two other "spiritual marriages" as well.
Strickland said a bigamy charge against Emack is pending. FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said Emack made the plea so he could file an appeal. Jessop said Emack did not want to be tried by State District Judge Barbara Walther, who signed the order to remove the children in 2008. A message left for Walther was not immediately returned Friday.
"He didn't feel that he would get a fair trial so he made a no contest plea to move his case into what he believed would be a neutral court, the court of appeals," Jessop said.
"We all very strongly believe the state of Texas acted in very bad faith," Jessop said. "What the state did was selective prosecution and they've used the format of a biased court to indict him."