HOUSTON -- A polygamist sect leader's daughter, who was a fugitive for nearly 20 years, pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge relating to the shotgun killings in Texas of an 8-year-old girl and three sect members who had recently left the church.
Jacqueline LeBaron, who had initially faced murder and other charges, now only faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to obstruct religious beliefs. The plea comes four days before the 45-year-old's trial was set to begin. Her defense attorney and prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.
LeBaron, the daughter of Utah polygamist Ervil LeBaron, has been held without bond since she was extradited last year from Honduras after being a fugitive since her 1992 indictment. She had faced 14 counts, including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, obstruction of religious beliefs, and racketeering conspiracy.
Authorities say LeBaron helped mastermind the 1988 shooting deaths of three former sect members and the young daughter of one of them. Authorities say Jacqueline LeBaron was following her sect's doctrine of blood atonement, in which defectors were killed.
She said in court the ex-members of the Church of the Lamb of God were being punished over their disagreements on how the sect should be run. "I'm very sorry this happened," she told the judge before being led away in handcuffs.
It was not immediately clear when she would be sentenced.
Prosecutors said Jacqueline LeBaron and her half-brother directed the killings after receiving what they described as a "sign from God." They were among six family members charged in the killings, in which all the victims were shot in the head.
Ed Marston, brothers Mark and Duane Chynoweth and Duane Chynoweth's daughter, Jenny, were fatally shot minutes apart at two sites in Houston and one in the Dallas suburb of Irving. Authorities said the girl was killed because she witnessed her father's death.
Three other LeBaron family members were convicted on charges including civil rights violations and witness tampering in 1993 and sentenced to life in prison. Another was convicted four years later of ordering the deaths and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. The youngest, who was 16 at the time of the killings, pleaded guilty in the child's death and served five years in prison.
Jacqueline LeBaron's father died in 1981 in Utah state prison, where he was serving a life sentence for masterminding the 1977 murder of Rulon Allred, the leader of another polygamist group. He was the leader of the Church of the Lamb of God, based on distorted early Mormon teachings and disavowed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church.