Texas sect elder convicted of sex assault of child

Abilene, USA - 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. Other witnesses said the man has no medical training.

One witness testified that Yedidiyah Hawkins admitted assaulting the girl. Several defense witnesses testified that the accuser had told them the allegations were untrue, the Abilene Reporter-News reported in Tuesday editions.

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 sect 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.