Arizona, feds pursuing cases against Warren Jeffs
Sep. 23, 2007
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday September 24, 2007
The polygamous sect leader is still facing criminal charges in Arizona, and a federal grand jury in Utah has indicted him on a charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, stemming from his time on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
“We’re ready and willing to get going on it,” said Gary Engels, an investigator for the Mohave County Attorney’s Office. “We’ve waited quite a while.”
On Monday, the jury in Jeffs’ trial here in St. George will return to the 5th District Courthouse to resume deliberations. Jeffs is accused of facilitating a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. If convicted of the first-degree felony charges, Jeffs faces up to life in prison.
On Friday, attorneys for “Jane Doe,” as she has been known, made her name public, along with a photograph of her at age 14. Elissa Wall has been the prosecution’s star witness in the case against Jeffs. She may also be a witness in one of the Arizona cases against Jeffs, although her attorney would not comment on that specifically.
“Elissa’s committed to making sure that Mr. Jeffs is held accountable for his actions and that these abuses come to a stop,” said Greg Hoole, Wall’s attorney.
It is unclear where Jeffs will go next.
“The issue is whether or not the federal authorities will try him next or he will go to Mohave County. That question has not yet been decided,” Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News. “I am anticipating that he will be coming to Arizona next and starting to prepare for trial here.”
In Arizona, Jeffs is facing charges of sexual conduct with a minor, conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, sexual conduct with a minor as an accomplice, and incest as an accomplice. The indictments accuse Jeffs of performing more child-bride marriages.
At least one of Mohave County’s cases against Jeffs has been on shaky ground since one alleged child bride refused to testify against her former husband. It led to the dismissal of criminal charges against him. However, Engels said he is confident in the investigations.
“Our cases are a little different,” he said, declining to elaborate.
In Arizona, Jeffs could make bail but is not expected to get out of jail anytime soon.
“We do have a detainer based on our federal indictment,” said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney for Utah.
Jeffs, 51, is facing a charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. In August 2006, Jeffs was arrested outside Las Vegas after a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper could not read a temporary tag on a 2007 Cadillac Escalade. The FLDS leader was sitting in the back seat.
Also inside the car, FBI agents seized more than $58,000 in cash, pre-paid cell phones, pre-paid credit cards, papers, wigs, GPS devices and other items.
That evidence will factor heavily in the federal government’s case against Jeffs. If convicted on that charge, he faces up to five years in federal prison.
“We’re working on the evidence that we have,” Rydalch said.
Defense attorneys successfully argued to have some of the evidence returned on the grounds it is protected by Jeffs’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion and that some of the documents constitute “clergy-communicant privilege.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently returned many items seized to Jeffs’ attorneys.
About 1,500 pages of documents were given to lawyers for the court-controlled United Effort Plan Trust, the financial arm of the FLDS Church. The attorneys have been pursuing assets since the $110 million financial empire was taken over by the courts in 2005, amid allegations that Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders had been fleecing it.
Meanwhile, more criminal cases could be stacking up against the FLDS leader.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office has been investigating Jeffs and the FLDS Church for financial crimes related to the UEP Trust. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has told the Deseret Morning News he would like to see the evidence seized by the FBI as part of an organized crime probe.
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