The bigamy trial of West Texas sect leader Yisrayl Hawkins has been moved to Weatherford after Hawkins’ lawyers argued that too many people in his home county were prejudiced against him.
State District Judge John Weeks ordered the trial moved from Callahan County on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the judge said.
The trial of Hawkins, leader of the House of Yahweh, is scheduled to begin Nov. 9.
Hawkins, a former Abilene policeman born Buffalo Bill Hawkins, founded the group in 1980 and moved it to a ranch in Callahan County several years later. Baird, the county seat, is 135 miles west of Fort Worth on Interstate 20.
Former members have said that Hawkins, now in his mid-70s, began to preach polygamy in the 1990s. State records show that he fathered two babies in 2007 with women ages 19 and 22. Hundreds of his followers have changed their last names to Hawkins, according to published reports.
Long under state investigation, Hawkins was charged last year with four counts of promoting bigamy and one count of practicing bigamy, which are second-degree felonies. He is accused of having more than 20 wives. He also faces misdemeanor charges of violating child labor laws by forcing children to work at the church property.
Hawkins, who is also known for his apocalyptic prophecies, made multiple appearances on national television last year.
In an interview with The Associated Press, he said he and his members were being prosecuted for their religious beliefs.
In December, another church elder, Yedidiyah Hawkins, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated sexual abuse of a child. He had been accused of performing a vaginal examination of his 11-year-old stepdaughter.