The leader of a Mexico-based religious sect has been sentenced to 45 years in prison for ordering the 1988 killings of three cult defectors and a child witness.
U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on Thursday assessed the maximum sentence possible to Aaron LeBaron, 29, under federal sentencing guidelines.On Feb. 28, a jury deliberated for 6 1/2 hours before finding LeBaron guilty in the July 27, 1988, slayings of Ed Marston, brothers Mark and Duane Chynoweth and Duane Chynoweth's 8-year-old daughter Jenny.
Before he was sentenced, LeBaron read a rambling statement in which he vowed to dedicate his life to crime prevention efforts, especially efforts to keep unsupervised youths from getting into trouble.
"My goal and purpose in life is the hope of doing in my life more good than Ervil LeBaron did bad," LeBaron said.
Ervil LeBaron, his father, founded the cult known as the Church of the First Born Lamb of God. The cult, based on distorted early Mormon teachings, is disavowed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Clad in a rumpled, jail-issue jumpsuit, LeBaron admitted no wrongdoing and requested no leniency.
Defense attorney Mac Secrest said LeBaron had been reared on a doctrine of extreme religious intolerance and mindless obedience to his father's teachings.
"I'm persuaded that the lifetime of brainwashing and life as a child cult member are mitigating circumstances," Lake said. But the seriousness of the crimes warranted the stiff sentence, he said.
Testimony suggested that the plot to kill the Chynoweths and Marston was formed not long after Aaron LeBaron became the cult's patriarch. According to testimony, Aaron LeBaron masterminded the scheme and remained in close contact with the killers by telephone from Mexico, while Heber LeBaron came to Texas to oversee the shootings.
Testimony showed that three squads of killers spent more than a week following the defectors around to determine their daily schedules and find possible sites for the killings. The killing occurred within five minutes - Marston in Irving and the other three in Houston.
Aaron LeBaron's sister, Cynthia LeBaron, testified she watched Mark Chynoweth through binoculars for days beforehand.
Aaron was one of 54 children of Ervil LeBaron, who had 13 wives. Witnesses said Aaron LeBaron was following the teachings of his father, who founded the sect in 1972 and died in Utah State Prison in 1981.
A Mexican citizen, Aaron had taken the reins just two years before the killings, which were carried out under the sect's "blood of atonement" beliefs, testified his sister, who was given immunity.
Cynthia LeBaron's testimony led to life prison terms for William Heber LeBaron and two other cult members, Patricia LeBaron and Douglas Barlow.
Richard LeBaron reached a plea agreement and served five years.