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Ex-FLDS leader receives 10-year term for bigamy

Published March 30, 2012 7:28 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Texas jury on Friday sentenced a former high-ranking follower of Warren Jeffs to serve 10 years in prison for bigamy, the San Angelo Standard-Times is reporting.

Wendell Loy Nielsen, 71, was found guilty earlier this week of marrying three women aged 65, 63 and 43.

The Standard-Times is reporting jurors also levied a $10,000 fine, with a decision expected later if that fine will be for each count, the maximum penalty possible.

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.

At trial, 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 a path to heaven. But prosecutor Eric Nichols said the unions fit the legal definition of marriage and were illegal.

Prosecutors during the sentencing phase presented evidence that Nielsen was married to 30 women, and witnessed 50 underage marriages to other men. The evidence of those so-called bad acts didn't rise to the level of a crime but were designed to speak to Nielsen's character.

Nielsen initially pleaded no contest in the case and was sentenced to probation but later withdrew his plea because a judge imposed stricter terms than those he'd agreed to, and he wasn't able to transfer his probation to Colorado, where he has family.

Nielsen once served as the sect's president until Jeffs reclaimed the office from his jail cell early last year. He was reportedly excommunicated then, along with dozens of FLDS men and other top leaders.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst

The Polygamy Blog: http://bit.ly/Ar3JVq