West Texas Polygamist Trials Draw National Attention

Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - Warren Jeffs and Wendell Nielsen. Both affiliated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, both polygamists, both tried and sentenced in West Texas.

Court documents accuse Nielsen of being married 35 times.

The trial of Jeffs revealed he took underage girls as wives, even fathering children with them.

"This background is very fascinating for people," Historical Author, Bridget Cook, said.

Cook is currently writing a book on Nielsen's trial.

"They don't understand everything that goes on behind the scenes," she said.

Marfa Public Radio reporter, Steve Anderson, who is also writing a book on the Nielsen trial, has been following the last six FLDS trials from Eldorado to San Angelo and he said polygamy's drastically different culture draws us in.

"These folks separated themselves from mainstream society starting back in 1890," Anderson said. "It's almost as if time stopped for these folks. From my exposure to them and my reading of them, it's almost as if we're time-traveling."

"It's not accepted around the country and so it's definitely a different culture and a different situation," Cook said.

But in the end, the authors covering Nielsen's trial said just because polygamists hide from our culture, it doesn't excuse them from the law.

"I don't care how removed they have been from mainstream culture, with respect to the sexual assault because that's what it is under law of young women, as young as 12 years old in the case of Warren Jeffs," Anderson said. "There's no excuse for that."

Anderson told NewsWest 9 what he finds most disturbing is that the wives that testified don't show any sign of being forced into their lives.

"I know many lawyers that represented these women from the FLDS," he said. "Their clients are not brainwashed and they're not Stepford Wives and they think for themselves and they freely choose FLDS lifestyle."

Regardless of people's opinions on polygamy, the law remains absolute.

Nielsen is facing up to 10 years jail time and a $10,000 fine for each bigamy count.

His punishment trial will continue Thursday morning.