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Ex-FLDS leader set to be paroled from Texas prison

HOUSTON (AP) – A former top lieutenant to polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs who was sentenced last year to a decade in prison is scheduled to be released on parole next week, Texas prison officials said Thursday.

Wendell Loy Nielsen, the former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted in March 2012 on three counts of bigamy and given a 10-year prison term.

Nielsen and 11 other FLDS members were indicted after a 2008 police raid at the church’s remote West Texas compound, known as the Yearning for Zion ranch. He was accused of marrying three women in 2005.

Nielsen became eligible for parole last month after having served a quarter of his sentence, said Texas prison system spokesman Jason Clark. This was calculated by adding the actual time he had served in jail with time received for good behavior and credit for working while in prison, Clark said.

The 72-year-old Nielsen is set to be released Wednesday from the Robertson Unit in Abilene. He served his sentence at the Terrell Unit in Rosharon, located south of Houston.

David Botsford, Nielsen’s trial attorney, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday.

Jeffs, the ecclesiastical head of the FLDS church, was convicted in August 2011 and sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two of his child brides. Prosecutors said Jeffs had two dozen underage wives in all.

The FLDS practices polygamy, a legacy of early Mormon church teachings that held plural marriage brought exaltation in heaven. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s statehood and ex-communicates members who still engage in polygamy.

Nielsen reached a plea deal with prosecutors in 2011 in which he would have avoided jail time, but he renounced it because he felt the probation conditions were too restrictive. In addition to his prison term, Nielsen was ordered to pay a fine of $10,000 for each of the counts.


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