8 Dec 2010

Extradition process started to bring jailed Mormon polygamist leader to Texas for trial after Arizona drops cases against him

The Salt Lake Tribune - June 9, 2010

Arizona drops cases against polygamous sect leader

Texas said to be working to extradite the polygamous leader

by Brooke Adams

A judge has dismissed two cases pending against Warren S. Jeffs in Arizona and ordered that he be sent back to Utah, a move that abruptly ends the state's prosecution of the polygamous sect leader and potentially puts Jeffs on a faster track to face more serious charges in Texas.

Mohave Superior Court Judge Steven F. Conn's ruling came after County Attorney Matt Smith filed a motion Wednesday asking that the cases be dropped so that Texas can proceed against the 54-year-old Jeffs -- something Smith said both Arizona victims want.

Smith said extradition proceedings are already under way to bring Jeffs, ecclesiastical leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to Texas.

A Texas grand jury indicted Jeffs in July 2008 of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and bigamy based on his marriages to two underage girls -- including one who was 12 when she was spiritually married to the sect leader at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas. No trial date has been set for Jeffs but the Texas Attorney General's Office already has prosecuted five men on similar charges for marriages to underage girls that were approved by Jeffs. A sixth man currently is on trial.

One FLDS man received a 75-year sentence from a Texas jury, while others received sentences of seven, eight, 10 and 33 years.

Conn said in his ruling that Arizona had only temporary custody of Jeffs while he awaited trial and any extradition proceedings must be initiated in Utah. He ordered the Mohave County sheriff to transport Jeffs back to Utah.

Arizona defense attorney Michael Piccarreta said Jeffs will fight any attempt to extradite him to Texas while legal issues are still pending in Utah.

The collapse of the Arizona cases came five years to the day from when the state first logged indictments against Jeffs, a move that culminated in his being placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. After Jeffs' arrest in August 2006, Arizona authorities agreed to let him stand trial first in Utah, where he faced a more severe penalty.

A Utah jury found Jeffs guilty in September 2007 of two counts of rape as an accomplice based on a marriage he performed that involved an underage girl. He subsequently was ordered to serve two five-to-life sentences.

He was brought to Arizona in February 2008 and spent 28 months in the Mohave County Jail awaiting trial.

In the meantime, Jeffs appealed his Utah conviction to the Utah Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case last November. Jeffs recently notified the court that he may seek a new trial based on just discovered evidence that false testimony and evidence were given during the 2007 proceedings.

Piccarreta said in a telephone interview that Jeffs "does have a right to have that matter completed before he is removed from any jurisdiction." In addition, he said, there are "serious issues with the legitimacy and constitutionality of Texas' request."

Arizona grand juries indicted Jeffs on charges related to five different marriages he conducted that involved underage girls -- among them, Elissa Wall, the star witness in Utah proceedings against Jeffs.

One case fell apart after a victim refused to participate and two others were dismissed because the state couldn't prove the marriages took place in Arizona. The remaining cases were pared back after Conn ruled incest charges did not apply, leaving two counts of sexual conduct with a minor in each case. The maximum penalty for that crime is a year in prison. Smith noted in his motion that Jeffs had already served more jail time in Arizona than he would receive if convicted in the cases.

The cases faced additional hurdles, too. Piccarreta alleged the state's cases had been tainted because a state attorney and an investigator reviewed evidence seized from the sect's Texas ranch during an investigation in 2008. The evidence that falsified documents were used in the Utah prosecution also endangered the Arizona case.

"There is no likelihood of conviction especially in light of recent developments," Piccarreta said. "He was ethically obligated to dismiss the remaining cases. I commend him for that."

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CNN - June 10, 2010

Arizona charges dismissed against polygamist sect leader

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) -- A judge dismissed charges against polygamist leader Warren Jeffs on Wednesday after the Mohave County, Arizona, prosecutor requested they be thrown out, citing "much more serious charges" against Jeffs in Texas and the desire of his alleged victims that he "face these more serious charges as soon as possible."

Jeffs, the leader and "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had been awaiting trial in Arizona on four charges of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor.

He was indicted in Texas in 2008 on a felony charge of sexual assault of a child. The indictment accuses Jeffs of assaulting a child "younger than 17 years of age and not legally married to the defendant" in January 2005.

The FLDS first became known to many when Jeffs was arrested during a routine traffic stop in August 2006. At the time, Jeffs was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

The FLDS is a 10,000-member offshoot of the mainstream Mormon church. Its members openly practice polygamy at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, and in two towns straddling the Utah-Arizona state line: Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Critics of the sect say young girls are forced into "spiritual" marriages with older men and are sexually abused. Sect members have denied that any sexual abuse takes place.

Before being moved to Arizona, Jeffs was convicted in Utah in 2007 on two counts of being an accomplice to rape. He was accused of using his religious influence over his followers to coerce a 14-year-old girl into marrying her 19-year-old cousin. He was sentenced to two consecutive prison terms of five years to life.

If convicted on the Texas charges, Jeffs could face a maximum penalty of five to 99 years or life in prison and a fine of $10,000.

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TIME - June 12, 2010

The Strange Legal Trip of Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs

By Hilary Hylton / Austin

Five years ago, Warren Jeffs was charged with sex crimes resulting from the polygamous marriages he arranged for his followers in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Jeffs then began a circular journey through the jailhouses and courtrooms of the west. This week, the self-styled prophet awoke to the promise of a change of scenery — but not a change of fortune. An Arizona judge dismissed the original charges against Jeffs, the very charges that had catapulted him into national headlines. But the dismissal has only cleared the way for Texas authorities to get their hands on him to face even more serious charges. "Extradition proceedings against Warren Jeffs have commenced," Lauri Saathoff, a spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told TIME.

Jeffs has already spent more time in an Arizona county jail cell than he would have spent in prison if found guilty of the original charges: arranging and performing marriages between two underage girls and their older male relatives, thus being an accomplice to sexual misconduct with minors. The prosecutor in the case said the two victims no longer wanted to pursue the charges, making a prosecution impractical. Jeffs' attorney, Mike Picarretta, hinted at "irregularities" and said the cases would have been dropped years ago had they involved someone less well-known than his client.

But he doesn't face imminent release. Arizona had put its charges on hold while Jeffs was prosecuted in Utah on similar charges. In September 2007 a Utah jury found him guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape by performing a marriage involving an underage girl. He was given two five-years-to-life terms, moved to Utah state prison and then back to Arizona to await trial on the charges in that state.

Now Texas wants him. State officials are not revealing when Jeffs, 54, will be moved, but Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan is under Arizona court orders to act speedily. The sheriff says he hopes Jeffs will be out of his jail by this week's end. "He's been a problem inmate since we had him," Sheahan told the San Angelo (Texas) Standard-Times. "Mr. Jeffs was a handful from day one with his self-inflicted hunger strikes."

Jeffs served as president and prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of the Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints after his father, Rulon Jeffs, died in 2002. In June 2005, days after being indicted in Arizona on the charges of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor, Jeffs fled the Colorado City, Arizona, area, home to a large FLDS community. A warrant was issued for his arrest and he was placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. Fourteen months later, he was arrested outside Las Vegas, Nevada, and began his journey from court to court and jail to jail.

Jeffs' defenders claim he is a victim of religious persecution. He has spent much of his time in jail talking about his faith, fasting and praying. Tall, slender, with a wide-eyed gaze that seems to compel allegiance among his FLDS followers, Jeffs is a calm presence in court, but his life behind bars has been more tumultuous. Ill from fasting, his knees bleeding and sore from prolonged prayer sessions, he has been hospitalized and force-fed several times. He has also been inconsistently penitent. "I am one of the most wicked men on the face of the earth since the days of Father Adam," Jeffs can be heard saying on a tape recorded by authorities at the Purgatory Jail in St. George, Utah. Still, Jeffs' attorneys are pledging to fight extradition and also have an appeal of the Utah case pending before the state supreme court. They also may seek a new trial based on recently uncovered evidence — now under investigation by the Utah Attorney General's Office — that some medical records in the trial may not have been original documents, but reconstructed ones. Jeffs' legal team says the Utah case must be resolved before their client is moved to Texas.

The ordeal also has been difficult for his alleged victims, says Roger Hoole, an attorney for Elissa Wall and Susie Barlow, former FLDS members and child brides. "They have been reviled. They are hated and they have been scapegoated" in the FLDS community, Hoole told TIME. The FLDS communities in northern Arizona and southern Utah have strong, deep roots to the region going back to the mid-19th century. Many families bear the same name — evidence of generations of intermarriage — and former FLDS members say communal wealth is used by the leadership to maintain power and punish. Witnesses have refused to testify in the cases against Jeffs. Texas prosecutors have sidestepped that problem by using genetic evidence and extensive church documents seized during an April, 2008 raid at the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas.

Jeffs was indicted in July, 2008, by a Schleicher County grand jury in Eldorado, Texas, home to the YFZ Ranch. The state authorities removed more than 400 children from the ranch, plus boxes of evidence, some of which purport to show Jeffs kissing child brides. He is facing charges of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and bigamy charges which could result in at least one life sentence. If extradited, he will join 12 other FLDS defendants charged with similar offenses. In a steady march beginning last October, five FLDS members have been convicted of felonies and received sentences ranging from seven to 75 years. A sixth trial is just getting under way in the small Eldorado courthouse and six more men await trail — seven if Jeffs finds himself in a West Texas jail.

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