Sect elder convicted of child sex assault

October 28, 2008 2:38:11 PM PDT
A religious sect's elder who molested a girl under the guise of checking her for cervical cancer faces up to life in prison. Yedidiyah Hawkins, 40, a House of Yahweh elder, was convicted Monday of aggravated sexual assault of a child. A judge will set the sentence, expected within 45 days. Hawkins earlier decided that he wanted a judge to assess the punishment if jurors found him guilty.

The sect's leader, self-proclaimed prophet Yisrayl Hawkins, faces trial later this year on bigamy and child labor charges. He is accused of having more than 20 wives, performing polygamous weddings and forcing about 40 children to work jobs at his 44-acre compound in rural Clyde near Abilene. Hundreds of his followers have legally changed their last names to Hawkins.

At Yedidiyah Hawkins' trial, a 15-year-old girl testified that she was 11 when he claimed to be checking her for cervical cancer with an instrument used by gynecologists -- although other witnesses said he has no medical training. A former Yahweh member testified that Hawkins was worried the girl was no longer a virgin.

Rachel Hawkins, referred to by a witness as one of his wives, testified that she was not home at the time but found out and falsely told him video cameras recorded the incident. She said he repeatedly told her he would do anything to get the tapes.

Rachel Hawkins -- who is no longer in the sect -- said she did record Hawkins admitting to the assault but that it was later erased by a House of Yahweh elder.

But several defense witnesses testified that the accuser had told them the allegations were untrue, the Abilene Reporter-News reported in Tuesday editions.

One girl said she heard the accuser speak of abuse for at least five years but when challenged, she "almost always said it wasn't true."

One boy said the accuser told him Hawkins was "putting things inside me" but didn't mention it again or seem bothered. The girl was rebellious and had said she hated Hawkins because he wouldn't let her do things, the boy testified.

Another girl told jurors the accuser "told me she was lying. He's innocent, and he's spent a year in jail."

Callahan County District Attorney Shane Deel said Tuesday he was pleased with the verdict.

"It was very difficult for the victim to wait this long, to see the House of Yahweh members in court and to look the defendant right in the eye," Deel said.

Hawkins' attorneys did not immediately return calls Tuesday seeking comment.

This is not the first time a House of Yahweh member has been accused of wrongdoing.

In 2003 a 7-year-old died after her mother and another member performed home surgery on her infected leg. Both women were convicted of injury to a child.

In 2006, a woman bled to death after giving birth because she was prevented from going to the hospital, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by her husband against leader Yisrayl Hawkins, several midwives and the sect.

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