Sect leader Jeffs fights extradition to Texas
By JENNIFER DOBNER (AP)
SALT LAKE CITY — Polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs on Tuesday refused to sign a waiver that would have allowed his extradition to Texas, where he faces bigamy, aggravated sexual assault and assault charges over alleged incidents with underage girls at a church ranch.
Dressed in a dark grey suit, Jeffs attended the short hearing in a West Jordan courtroom where he refused a waiver of extradition from Utah. It was his second refusal; Jeffs also refused in June, when Texas authorities brought a similar warrant to the Utah State Prison, where he is incarcerated.
Both the Utah and Texas governors have signed extradition warrants, setting up a legal mechanism for Jeffs' transfer.
Jeffs, 54, is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The southern Utah-based church practices polygamy in arranged marriages that have involved underage girls.
Jeffs' defense attorney, Walter Bugden, said his client was not trying to avoid facing the Texas charges, but wants a speedy trial in Utah first.
In Utah's Washington County, Jeffs is facing a possible retrial on two counts of rape as an accomplice. The Utah Supreme Court recently overturned his 2007 conviction, ruling that faulty jury instructions denied Jeffs a fair trial and state attorneys misapplied accomplice liability law in the case.
"The reality of the situation is that if he is sent to Texas now, he won't come back to Utah to face a possible retrial on the Utah charges for several years," Bugden said after the hearing. "Utah filed first."
Bugden will make those arguments before a judge at a Nov. 15 hearing.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap has said his office has not decided whether it will retry the case.
Assistant Utah Attorney General Craig Barlow said Jeffs' refusal to go willingly to Texas was no surprise. Barlow said the state believes extradition can only be challenged if there are questions about a defendant's identity and the sufficiency of criminal charges can be used as grounds to challenge extradition.
"We do not believe a retrial is necessary before he can go to Texas," Barlow said.
Utah's Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said the state would not retry the case until after Texas authorities get a chance to prosecute Jeffs. Shurtleff has asked the Utah court for a rehearing and a clarification from justices on proper jury instruction.
The Texas charges stem from church and family records seized by authorities during a raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in April 2008.
Jeffs remains incarcerated despite his overturned conviction. In addition to the charges in Texas, he faces federal charges of being a fugitive from justice.
Bugden said the "unlawful" warrants violate Jeffs' constitutional right to a speedy trial and suggested that Utah officials who prosecuted Jeffs are trying to quickly cut their losses.
"The state of Utah is losing, so what do they want to do? They want to send him off to Texas: 'Let's let Mr. Jeffs be Texas' problem,'" Bugden said.
About a dozen of Jeffs' FLDS followers - all men - attended the Tuesday hearing, which lasted only about five minutes. As is customary, church members stood as a sign of respect when Jeffs was escorted into the room by security officers from the court and the state prison.
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TIME - September 8, 2010
The Polygamist Prophet: One Step Closer to a Texas Court
By Hilary Hylton / Austin with Jeanettte Moses / Salt Lake City
The appearance was brief, perhaps two or three minutes, but the presence of Warren Jeffs in a Salt Lake City area courtroom this week revealed a man who has changed in the four years since his arrest. The man who was once on the FBI's Most Wanted List looked thinner, his hair, now close-cropped, dusted with gray, and he wore a pair of frameless glasses that seemed to emphasize his most distinctive feature, his wide, compelling eyes. Jeffs has reportedly suffered from illness brought on by extended periods of prayer and fasting. But the brief courtroom hearing with its mundane talk of calendars and hearings also brought the sometime "prophet" of a Utah-based polygamist sect one step closer to a Texas courtroom to face allegations of sexual assault and bigamy — perhaps law enforcement's best avenue to keep him behind bars.
Jeffs and 11 members of his Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS) were charged in 2008 by Texas authorities with a variety of felony charges, from bigamy to child abuse, following a raid on the group's Yearning for Zion Ranch in tiny Eldorado, Texas. Seven of the men have been convicted and have received sentences ranging from 7 to 75 years; another goes on trial this month. Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told TIME: "Whenever Warren Jeffs is brought to Texas, we stand ready to try him on felony charges returned by a Schleicher County grand jury."
Jeffs' defense team's efforts to fight extradition are a "big long shot," according to Clifford Rosky, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah. "He is going to be extradited — it's a matter of weeks, not months," Rosky says. On Tuesday, Jeffs refused to sign the waiver of extradition — a move his legal team had hinted would happen after Utah's Gov. Gary Herbert accepted the extradition request by Texas Gov. Rick Perry last month. The wrangling over his extradition will continue at a Nov. 15 hearing when it is likely Jeffs' legal team will argue he should remain in Utah until charges against him in that state are either dropped or reinstated.
In August, the Utah Supreme Court tossed out a 2008 conviction in state court that found Jeffs was an accomplice to rape after he performed a marriage between Elissa Wall, 14, and her then 19-year-old first cousin, Allen G. Steed. Jeffs remains in Utah prison so far, while state government is asking its high court to reconsider its ruling. Prosecutors, however, have been mum on whether they will retry Jeffs. "We don't need him here right now," Utah Assistant Attorney General Craig Barlow said, urging the court to move forward on the Texas extradition.
Texas prosecutors need only prove the target of their arrest warrant is the real Warren Jeffs and that their charges are based on some reasonable belief that a crime occurred. During the raid on the FLDS ranch, Texas Rangers removed numerous boxes of records and computers. Later, the state assembled a detailed DNA map of the 401 children removed by child protective services from the ranch, plus samples from some of their parents who agreed to testing to reclaim their children. Among the evidence was a 2006 photograph marked "anniversary" that shows Jeffs kissing a 12-year-old girl. The photo, according to FLDS detractors depicts an abusive underage marriage, while supporters claim it is just a record of a symbolic kiss marking a spiritual marriage aimed at strengthening bonds between families. But the photo is likely to be evidence in Jeffs' Texas trial, the sort of evidence that eluded Utah prosecutors.
Meanwhile, Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran says his 15-bed jail is ready for Jeffs whenever he arrives in the small West Texas town of Eldorado. The man who spent three months eluding the FBI in 2006 also could be housed in nearby San Angelo, a city of some 88,000 residents compared to El Dorado's 1,800.
Law enforcement continues to view him as flight risk. Tuesday's hearing was delayed as attorneys and prosecutors argued. Prosecutors wanted him in prison clothes and handcuffed, defense attorneys argued he should appear unshackled in civilian clothes. The judge split the baby and Jeffs appeared in a suit, a white shirt that looked a little large in the collar, and his hands cuffed as if in prayer. As he appeared a dozen male members of the FLDS community in the courtroom audience stood and smiled at their former leader.
"He is holding up great. He is doing just fine. He is very appreciative of the Utah Supreme Court's decision. He is a prayerful man and he feels, and the people who support Mr. Jeffs believe, that their prayers were answered," Jeffs' attorney Walter F. Bugden told the Salt Lake Tribune. "He is a little thin, he is a little thin. He could use some fattening up."
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