Salt Lake City — A federal judge has awarded $152 million in damages to ex-members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church over abuses they suffered while in the Utah-based polygamous faith.
In a judgment issued late Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart granted the massive amount of damages against FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. The verdict follows a trial FOX 13 News first reported on last year where ex-members of the faith testified about forced marriages, rapes and other abuses they suffered while in the church that they blamed Jeffs for.
"People that have hurt us in the past will not get away with it. It means everything to us," Ruby Jessop said in an interview with FOX 13 News last year about what it meant for the case to finally go to trial.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Roger Hoole, said in a statement to FOX 13 News on Friday that he was pleased with the verdict.
"The judgement will send a clear message about the terrible things his clients suffered at Jeffs’ hands and the harm that so many other former and current members continue to suffer. The judgment is largely symbolic and will be challenging to collect, but it will help vindicate the harms suffered by the FLDS under Jeffs’ reign," he wrote.
Collecting the money may prove difficult. Any assets Jeffs still may have are likely scattered across the country as still-faithful FLDS members have left Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., under increased scrutiny and pressure. The state of Utah took control of a multi-million dollar trust the FLDS Church ran and split up its assets after more than a decade of litigation.
As he has done in nearly every piece of litigation leveled against him since he was convicted of child sex assault related to underage "marriages" and sentenced to life in prison in 2011, Jeffs simply refused to respond to this lawsuit so he was found in default judgment. In depositions obtained by FOX 13 News in other lawsuits, he has consistently refused to answer questions beyond his name, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
But Jeffs apparently still leads his church from his Texas prison cell. Last year, FOX 13 News obtained a new edict seeking to call people back to the FLDS church. That edict has alarmed ex-members who claim that family members have vanished as a result of the "revelation." They have pleaded with law enforcement to do more to investigate the disappearances.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office has said it is monitoring the situation surrounding Jeffs' edict.
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