Former FLDS leader pleads no contest to bigamy in Texas

The Salt Lake Tribune/October 26, 2011

Former polygamous sect leader Wendell Nielsen on Tuesday pleaded no contest to bigamy and was sentenced to serve 10 years of probation.

As part of the agreement with prosecutors, Nielsen also will not file an appeal and drop his challenge to Texas's bigamy statute, said his attorney, David Botsford.

Botsford said Nielsen , 70, wanted to avoid a trial.

"I will tell you he is in extremely poor health, and the trial was going to be held in the greater San Angelo area, which has been permeated with very nasty publicity," Botsford said.

Texas prosecutors charged Nielsen with the three counts of bigamy, each a third-degree felony, in connection with his marriages to women ages 65, 63 and 43. Nielsen entered his plea before 51st District Court Judge Barbara Walther in San Angelo.

Nielsen served as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints after sect leader and prophet Warren Jeffs was sentenced on accomplice to rape charges in Utah — a conviction overturned on appeal. Nielsen lost his position earlier this year when Jeffs took back the presidency.

Nielsen was one of dozens of men excommunicated by Jeffs this year and is one of 12 men, including Jeffs, who were charged with crimes related to bigamy and underage marriages following a massive raid on the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch in El Dorado, Texas.

All eight men who have come to trial so far have pleaded no contest or have been found guilty. Jeffs was convicted on sexual assault of a child charges in August and is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison.

Nielsen in previously filed motions has challenged the Texas bigamy law as unfairly enforced and unconstitutional because it applies only to certain groups.

The law, for example, would not apply to three women living together who consider themselves married, or three men in the same situation, attorneys wrote, because marriage in Texas can only be between a man and a woman, and the bigamy statute requires that the accused is legally married to one person.

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