Utah high court: Polygamist leader can go to Texas
By BROCK VERGAKIS
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Supreme Court said Tuesday it won't block polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs' extradition to Texas for trial on bigamy and sexual assault charges.
The court denied Jeffs' appeal and lifted a stay a lower court had imposed last week keeping him in Utah.
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.
In court papers, defense attorneys argued that sending Jeffs to Texas before a long-running criminal case in Utah is resolved denies him the right to a speedy trial.
Jeffs' lawyers also objected to the conditions of an extradition agreement signed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Texas Gov. Rick Perry that would deny Jeffs bail in Texas.
The Utah attorney general's office contended that Jeffs had no legal grounds to argue against extradition. In a response filed with the appeals court, the state prosecutors said extradition is a "power explicitly granted to the executive branch" and can't be decided by a judge.
Prosecutors also said the question of bail is moot because the laws that govern extradition agreements permit judges in the "demanding state" - in this case Texas - to set or deny bail.
Texas authorities have charged Jeffs with felony bigamy, aggravated sexual assault and assault for alleged spiritual marriages of underage girls at a church ranch near Eldorado. The charges stem from evidence gathered during a raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in April 2008.
Jeffs remains at the Utah State Prison, more than four years after his arrest, prosecution and conviction on two charges of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage of an underage follower - then 14 - to her 19-year-old cousin.
In July, the Utah Supreme overturned the 2007 convictions and sent the case back to the 5th District Court in St. George, although prosecutors have yet to decide whether they'll retry Jeffs. A rehearing of the case before the Utah Supreme Court is pending.
Defense attorneys argued that sending him to Texas could delay the resolution of the Utah case for years.
Prosecutors say Jeffs' right to a speedy trial isn't an argument against extradition.
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Reuters - November 24, 2010
Warren Jeffs lawyer: court ruling will end Utah case
By James Nelson
SALT LAKE CITY - A Utah Supreme Court ruling allowing the extradition of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs to Texas, where he faces bigamy and sexual assault charges, should effectively end the case against him in Utah, his defense lawyer said on Wednesday.
Wally Budgen said that by refusing to block Jeffs' extradition, the state's high court had denied the imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints his right to a speedy trial in Utah.
"We think as a practical matter the state's ability to go forward with the prosecution of Mr. Jeffs is dead," Budgen told Reuters in an interview.
"By sending him to Texas without finishing what they started, they've deprived him of his right to a speedy trial," he said. "And as a matter of Constitutional law, when he is returned to Utah we'll file a motion to dismiss and that motion will be granted."
In a terse, two-line ruling issued on Tuesday, the Utah Supreme Court rejected an emergency petition by Jeffs, dismissing the appeal and lifting a stay on the extradition imposed by a lower court.
In September 2007, a jury in St. George, Utah, found Jeffs guilty of being an accomplice to rape for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin, for which he was later sentenced to 10 years to life in prison.
But the Utah Supreme Court overturned that conviction on July 27, 2010, ordering a new trial because the lower court judge gave faulty instructions to the jury.
In Texas, Jeffs, 54, faces a number of criminal charges including bigamy and sexual assault.
He was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List for four months before he was captured in a routine traffic stop outside of Las Vegas in August 2006.
Jeffs is considered the prophet and leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect.
Experts estimate the FLDS sect has 10,000 followers in Utah, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota and British Columbia.
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