Texas jury convicts former FLDS president of bigamy

Wendell Loy Nielsen, 71, was once second to Warren Jeffs.

The Salt Lake Tribune/March 28, 2012

After a short deliberation, a Texas jury found a former high-ranking follower of Warren Jeffs guilty of bigamy Wednesday.

Wendell Loy Nielsen, 71, who once stood second to Jeffs, showed no reaction as the verdict was read for each of three felony bigamy counts, the San Angelo Standard-Times reported. The case went to the jury Tuesday night, in the trial's fifth day. Jurors deliberated for about 45 minutes before adjourning for the day. They picked the case up again the next morning, and reached their verdict in about an hour and a half.

Nielsen is one of 12 Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints men, including Jeffs, charged following a massive 2008 raid on the sect's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas. His was the only case not to involve underage marriage.

Defense attorney David Botsford argued Nielsen's marriages were never intended to be legal unions, but rather celestial marriages that sect members believed would give the women, aged 65, 63 and 43, a path to heaven.

"It's all for a woman's eternal salvation," Botsford said, according to the Standard Times.

But prosecutor Eric Nichols said the unions fit the legal definition of marriage and were illegal.

"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, what is it? It's a duck," he said. He presented sect documents seized in the raid as evidence and a former member testified to their authenticity. No victims testified.

The trial now moves into the sentencing phase, which prosecutors said they expect to complete Thursday. The jury will decide the sentence, as per Texas law. Prosecutors will present evidence of other so-called bad acts, which may not rise to the level of a crime but speak to the character of the accused.

Nielsen faces up to 10 years in prison.

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