Polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs will be in court for the first time Wednesday, accompanied by his lawyers for what is expected to be a routine scheduling hearing.
In two earlier hearings, Jeffs appeared in court via a videolink from the Purgatory Correctional Facility, where he has been incarcerated since Sept. 5.
Walter F. Bugden and Tara L. Isaacson, Jeffs’ attorneys, will be in court for the first time, too, to represent the 50-year-old polygamist. A third attorney, Las Vegas attorney Richard A. Wright, also has received court approval to help represent Jeffs in Utah.
During the hearing, dates are likely to be set for discovery, or when attorneys exchange evidence, a preliminary hearing and a trial.
Jeffs faces two first-degree felony charges of being an accomplice to rape for allegedly conducting a spiritual marriage between an underage girl and a 28-year-old man. The charges are punishable by five years to life in prison.
On Friday, 5th District Judge James L. Shumate granted a request by Jeffs’ attorneys that he be allowed to wear civilian clothing during court hearings, rather than the green and white striped jail jumpsuit that is standard apparel for inmates.
In their request, the attorneys said photos of Jeffs in his prison uniform have been widely disseminated in the media and may unfairly prejudice potential jurors in the case.
It is well-settled law that defendants cannot be made to wear prison clothes during a trial, when such garb might negatively impact jurors’ impartiality. But it is a less established concession for pre- trial hearings – and has never been addressed by Utah’s appeals courts, Jeffs’ attorneys said.
The legal team said that to not permit use of civilian clothes unfairly categorizes defendants who remain incarcerated during early proceedings, compared to those freed on bail.
“On final balance, the state has little or nothing to gain, while the defendant has much to lose, when considering whether he should be allowed to don civilian clothing for his pretrial appearances,” the court document states.
Greg Skordas, a Salt Lake City attorney who is a former prosecutor, called the judge’s decision “without precedent” and “innovative and generous.”
Skordas added: “That is a judge who is going out of his way to be fair to the defense.” Jeffs, 50, made a similar request after he was arrested Aug. 28 just outside Las Vegas. According to the FBI, Jeffs was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and tennis shoes when the vehicle he was traveling in was stopped on Interstate 15.
The FBI took Jeffs to its Las Vegas office for questioning. Afterwards, the sect leader asked to be allowed to change into regular clothes before being transported to the Clark County Detention Center.
Jeffs is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a fundamentalist Mormon sect known for its distinctive style of dress. Faithful members wear sacred garments and clothing that covers their bodies from ankles to wrists.
Jeffs has about 6,000 followers in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., as well as smaller groups based in Colorado, South Dakota, Texas, Nevada and British Columbia.