Texas said to be working to extradite the polygamous leader.
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.
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 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.
FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said he’s relieved the Arizona charges were dismissed. But he said he’s also disappointed that allegations that false testimony may have been provided during Jeffs’ 2007 criminal trial in Utah won’t be addressed in an Arizona court.
The allegations became public in March in Arizona court documents filed by Jeffs’ attorneys. They alleged that papers used by a Canadian midwife to document her medical care of Elissa Wall following a miscarriage in 2002 may have been re-created records, not originals as represented during the Utah trial. A prosecutor in Utah’s Washington County launched an investigation into the allegations.
Wall’s 2001 spiritual marriage was the basis for Jeffs’ criminal conviction in Utah and was also the basis for one of the Arizona cases.
“I’m still hopeful that this will all come out and that there will be a full investigation,” Jessop said.
Picarretta also has pressed for a Salt Lake City law firm to disclose any money it has paid to one or more state witnesses in the Arizona cases.
“I’m hopeful that in Utah, just like in Arizona, a decision will be made that this case cannot be prosecuted,” he said. “There are too many irregularities, and if it wasn’t Mr. Jeffs, this case would have been gone years ago.”
The FLDS tie their religious roots to the early teachings of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and practice polygamy in arranged marriages. The Mormon church renounced plural marriages in 1890 as part of Utah’s push for statehood. Self-described Mormon fundamentalists such as the FLDS believe polygamy will bring glorification in heaven.
Polygamy and the Birth of Mormon Fundamentalism
Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, described plural marriage as part of “the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth” and taught that a man needed at least three wives to attain the “fullness of exaltation” in the afterlife. He warned that God had explicitly commanded that “all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same … and if ye abide not that covenenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
John Krakauer, Under The Banner of Heaven, Doubleday (July 15, 2003), pages 5, 6.
The Mormon Church’s rejection (sort of…) of polygamy directly led to the formatation of various sects of Mormonism. Though the the LDS/Mormon Church disavows them, collectively these sects are referred to as Mormon Fundamentalists.
As a matter of fact, the doctrines and practices of Mormon Fundamentalists are closer to those of the original Mormon Church than are the doctrines and practices of today’s Mormon Church.