FLDS: Jurors return guilty verdict

Sect member to be sentenced by jury for child sex assault

San Angelo Standard-Times/November 2, 2010

San Angelo, Texas - A Tom Green County jury on Tuesday found Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints member Keith William Dutson Jr. guilty of sexual assault of a child.

Jurors deliberated more than five hours on the sixth day of the trial.

Dutson has elected to be sentenced by the jury. The second-degree felony carries a penalty of two to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.

Fifty-first District Judge Barbara Walther, who is presiding over the case, told jurors to return at 2 p.m. Wednesday for the sentencing portion of the trial.

Several hours into Tuesday's deliberation, the jurors had a question for the court:"Texas marriage penal code for sexual assault. Ask judge if ignorance of the law makes it excusable to break it," a note from the jury said.

The jurors were brought back out to the jury box, and the defense and prosecution had the chance to make about five-minute arguments on the additional instruction the court gave — which said, no, ignorance does not excuse breaking the law, and all the law the jurors needed had been given to them in the form of a charge sheet they took into deliberation.

"We're not here to prosecute only those who know the law," said lead prosecutor Eric Nichols, noting that if that were true, lawyers and members of congress would be the most vulnerable members of society.

Brandon Hudson, one of Dutson's attorneys, read the instructions and told the jury that any reasonable doubt should acquit Dutson, emphasizing doubt about whether the marriage ceremony between Dutson and the girl was lawful.

Nichols returned a second time and argued that DNA evidence alone would be more than enough to dismiss reasonable doubt.

Following the verdict, Hudson requested that his client remain free on bond, but Walther denied that request and Dutson went into custody after receiving a hug from his attorney.

During closing arguments earlier Tuesday, Nichols began by putting up a board partly covered in sticky notes next to the words "sexual assault" and removed them one by one to reveal the words "of a child" as he spoke to the jurors.

The jurors, he argued, had ample evidence to consider: DNA evidence, church documents and personal letters.

"You don't have just one kind of evidence," Nichols said.

Hudson said the state had not in the least proved its case. He said the documents and legal records entered by the state were "a matter of paperwork."

"There has been not one element proven in this case," Hudson said.

Nichols said the case was strictly about sexual assault, not about the validity of search warrants used to gather the evidence, something the defense has routinely contested in most of the evidence offered.

The evidence came from a raid on the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch in April 2008, provoked by what is now known to be a hoax phone call from a woman who claimed she was being abused at the ranch.

"Don't make it a cut-and-dry easy decision," said Stephanie Goodman, another attorney for Dutson. "This is about his belief that (the alleged victim) is his wife."

Goodman and Hudson spent much of their allotted time working to discredit state witness Rebecca Musser, who authenticated documents taken from the ranch.

"She is their so-called expert. She has every reason to be here and tear this person down," Goodman said, motioning to Dutson. "Not to be brave and truthful."

Nichols quoted from FLDS scripture that says a woman can become "the property" of a man. Hudson cited FLDS scripture as saying a marriage ceremony declares the marriage "lawful."

Tuesday morning, jurors read personal letters to the FLDS leader from Dutson. The letters were written in ornate cursive penmanship, with Biblical allusions and filled with references to "yearning."

Some of the letters described Dutson's relationship with his "spiritual" or "celestial" wife.

The FLDS sanctions polygamous marriages, which are not official civil marriages.

"The Lord named three marriages to be performed," one record of FLDS leader and prophet Warren Jeffs stated with regard to performing Dutson's marriage. "After they received training on how to abide by the covenants of Celestial Plural Marriage, they left."

Dutson's letter presents a positive description of his marriage.

"She is happy," Dutson's letter read. "I love her and pray for her."

Other records that the state entered from Jeffs did mention some marital difficulties.

"She had been withdrawing from him ... His wife would hardly talk to him," the report stated months after the alleged marriage ceremony.

Sometimes Dutson asked general questions and made suggestions for what his wife could do, such as when he volunteered her for teaching.

"I am just wondering if it would be appropriate to purchase my wife a ring?" one of Dutson's letters asked.

Dutson would have been 20 at the time of the marriage in October 2005, and the girl would have been 15. The sexual assault happened sometime in August 2006.

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