- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2011

SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) — The child sexual assault case against Warren Jeffs was in the hands of a Texas jury Thursday, after the polygamist leader stood mostly mute for his closing argument.

Jeffs, who acted as his own attorney, stood expressionless, staring at the floor, for all but a few seconds of the half hour he was allotted. At one point he mumbled, “I am peace,” and said no more.

The only noise in the courtroom was the creaking of wooden benches brimming with spectators.

The 55-year-old head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is accused of assaulting two underage girls he had taken as so-called spiritual wives. He faces up to life in prison.

Jeffs had argued that his religious freedoms were being trampled. The FLDS believes polygamy is the key to heaven and that Jeffs is God’s spokesman on earth.

Prosecutors said the case had nothing to do with his church or his beliefs.

“You have heard the defendant make repeated arguments about religious freedoms,” said lead prosecutor Eric Nichols. “Make no mistakes, this case is not about any people, this case is not about any religion. It is about one individual, Warren Steed Jeffs, and his actions.”

Prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year old, and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old.

The lone defense witness Jeffs called, church elder JD Roundy, spent about 10 minutes on the stand Thursday discussing FLDS history after 4½ hours of testimony Wednesday evening.

When it was time to make his closing argument, Jeffs sat for a long pause, then stood. Jurors mostly avoided eye contact with him, even in the final minutes when Jeffs turned toward them, his eyes half-closed but still looking downward.

It was a strange ending to a trial that saw Jeffs read what he said was a statement from God threatening sickness and death on all involved if the case continued.

He tried three times unsuccessfully to have State District Judge Barbara Walther removed and filed a brief based on what he said was a revelation from the Lord saying she will suffer a crippling sickness that will soon take her life.

The prosecution had no participation from either alleged victim, but Nichols said sexual assault of a child was “so unconscionable” that it wasn’t legally required.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sat at the prosecution table for closing arguments but wasn’t otherwise involved in arguing the case.