CUSTER, SD - The sentencing phase for religious cult leader Warren Jeffs got underway Friday in a Texas courtroom. A jury on Thursday found Jeffs guilty of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he took as brides in so-called "spiritual marriages."
Warren Jeffs' legal troubles haven't loosened his ties to South Dakota.
Jeffs is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which, for the past six years, has run a compound in a remote area in Custer County, near Pringle. It's a spiritual settlement that keeps growing, even with Jeffs facing prison time.
The compound, with religious ties to Warren Jeffs, is leaving an ever-growing footprint in the foothills of Custer County. The church members who live here keep adding new buildings to their secluded site. The latest addition, according to Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler, is a dairy barn and other out-buildings. Members have also been required to build a private access road as part of the permitting process.
Wheeler estimates the compound numbers between 100 to150 people. It's a fluid population, with church members moving in for a time to help with construction, and then moving on, once the project is finished.
Wheeler makes regular visits onto the compound. But he says the people living there make no mention of Jeffs, or the crimes he committed.
In fact, Wheeler doubts Jeffs' followers here have been paying much media attention to his trial, since they prefer isolating themselves from the outside world.
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