A Texas appeals court has upheld the child sexual assault conviction of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints member Lehi Barlow Jeffs.
In its opinion published Friday, the 3rd District Texas Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that the conviction of Jeffs, who lived on the Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, was legal and his plea of no contest to the charge should stand. Jeff is serving an eight-year prison sentence in accordance with the plea bargain he struck with prosecutors.
Authorities alleged Jeffs was already married when he entered into a "spiritual" marriage with a 16-year-old in October 2005 at the ranch. Jeffs sexually assaulted the girl in September 2006 and she later gave birth to a daughter in 2007.
On appeal, Jeffs had challenged two search warrants served on the ranch in 2008, and the raid that followed it, as violating his constitutional rights and his religious freedoms.
The justices did not address the initial April 3, 2008 warrant — sparked by a hoax phone call — because the information gathered during that search was not critical to finding probable cause to issue the April 6 warrant, the appeals court found. The April 6 warrant ordered a search of the ranch seeking any of evidence of marriages between underage females and adult males and pregnancies and births by girls under the age of 17.
"We hold that appellant did not show that [Texas Ranger] Long omitted material facts from the April 6 [search warrant] affidavit either deliberately or with a reckless disregard for the truth," the appeals court wrote in its ruling.
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