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Texas jury hears taste of polygamist life in audiotape

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Jurors in the Texas child sexual assault trial of Warren Jeffs got a snippet via an audiotape on Tuesday of what life may have been like for the polygamist leader's wives, whom he called his "quorum of 12 women".

"I am preparing you to be a good heavenly wife. You must become a comfort and a strength," Jeffs was heard saying on a scratchy recording seized from his sect's Yearning for Zion Ranch in remote west Texas during a police raid in April 2008.

"You must know how to be excited sexually and assist each other," he told them.

Jeffs, who heads a breakaway Mormon sect, is charged with child sexual assault and aggravated child sexual assault in connection with his "spiritual marriages" to two girls, ages 12 and 14, at the Texas ranch.

A prosecution expert has testified that DNA evidence shows Jeffs, 55, fathered a child with the 14-year-old. Jurors have also viewed a picture of him passionately kissing the younger girl.

Jeffs is considered the spiritual leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has been condemned by the mainstream Mormon Church and is accused of promoting marriages between older men and girls.

The sect, which experts estimate has 10,000 followers in North America, teaches that for a man to be among the select in heaven, he must have at least three wives.

Jeffs was also heard on the recording instructing the women on the proper way of shaving their underarms and private areas, and on how they could achieve 'clean minds and pure beauty.'

JEFFS CLAIMS RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

In court, Jeffs repeatedly objected to the playing of the tape and complained his religious rights were being violated.

"I beg thee, let this cease, this persecution of pure religion!" Jeffs said at one point.

State District Judge Barbara Walther removed the jury for the first few times Jeffs objected, at one point threatening to remove him from the courtroom before ultimately allowing the recording to resume playing over his objections.

"These recordings have been repeatedly used in this court," Assistant Texas Attorney General Eric Nichols told Walther in response to Jeffs' objections.

Texas Ranger Nick Hanna, who led the raid on the west Texas ranch, said the recording was made in December 2005 after prosecutors say Jeffs sexually assaulted the two girls after entering into 'spiritual marriages' with them.

Nichols said Hanna, who testified about the evidence that was seized there, would be his final witness.

It was unclear what testimony Jeffs, who has fired his attorneys and was conducting his own defense, will present. Officials said they expected closing arguments to be heard on Wednesday.

Jeffs has been an odd spectacle sitting alone at the defense table. He spent one day with his hands folded in his lap. The next, he erupted into denunciations of what he called the federal government's 'decades of persecution' of the FLDS.

He has repeatedly tried to get Walther removed from the case, saying in one motion that 'God has sent a crippling disease upon (Walther) which will take her life soon.' Walther suffered from polio as a child and walks with a brace on one leg.

If convicted on both counts, Jeffs could face 119 years in prison.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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