Ten women and two men were selected to sit on the jury in the sexual assault trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs late Tuesday, after more than 100 potential jurors were excused for admitting they’d previously heard enough about his background to no longer presume him innocent, the Associated Press reports.
The 55-year-old Jeffs faces two counts of sexual assault of a child. If convicted, the maximum sentence for both is 119 years to life in prison. He will have a separate trial for bigamy in October.
Warren Jeffs is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect of the Mormon Church that believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.
Evidence ‘will shock the world’
A woman who has faced Jeffs in the courtroom in the past says the trial will open the world’s eyes to the insular, polygamist world of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), says ABC News:
“It will shock the world, the evidence that comes out,” Elissa Wall said today on “Good Morning America.”
“Warrens Jeffs was principal of my school. I was able to get out but it was a struggle,” Wall said today on “GMA” of her experience with the accused leader, a story chronicled in her book, “Stolen Innocence.”
After leaving the FLDS, she pursued criminal charges against Steed for sexual assault and against Jeffs for being an accomplice to rape. Jeffs was convicted on those charges in 2007 but the conviction was overturned by an appellate court on a technicality. [...]
Wall told “GMA” she believes the trial, no matter where it is held, will show the jury the controlling behavior she says Jeffs inflicts on his followers.
“He did display a lot of narcissistic behavior,” she said. “He was a lot like a prince in our community. He commanded a lot of respect and we all feared him very much.” [...]
Though Jeffs is facing up to life in prison and being held in a Texas jail, he is believed to still have a firm grip on the sect he leads and the lives of thousands of his followers. [...]
Jeffs’ followers see him as a prophet who serves as God’s spokesman on earth. [...]
As prophet, Jeffs paired the community’s girls and women with the men he said God told him in revelations were meant to be married. Sect teachings emphasize that young girls and women are to be obedient to their husbands and serve them “mind, body and soul” to achieve salvation in the afterlife.
Two Texas sheriffs confirmed to ABC News that Jeffs spent $23,000 on phone cards in five months, leading to beliefs he is still in complete control of the church. The sheriff officials said they believe Jeffs is “directing” church members over the phone.
Last february Jeffs — from his prison cell in Texas — retook his post as President of the FLDS. He immediately ousted several of the cult’s leaders.
In January of 2007, Jeffs told family and key sect members he had never been a prophet and named William E. Jessop as the faith’s rightful leader. Shortly after his announcement Jeffs attempted to commit suicide. He later appeared to retract his statement about Jessop.
Court’s ruling on FLDS appeal could affect other cases
The charges against him stem from an April 2008 police raid on a church compound known as Yearning For Zion outside the town of Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo. Authorities who believed girls were being forced into polygamous marriages removed more than 400 children living at the compound, and TV images of women in frontier-style dresses and 19th century hairdos were shown across the country.
The original call to a domestic abuse hotline that sparked the raid turned out to be a hoax. Most of the children seized from the compound have since been returned to their families, but the evidence collected sparked charges including sexual assault and bigamy against Jeffs and 11 other FLDS men.
The defense has filed a motion to suppress evidence in the case, which includes tens of thousands of pages of documents seized at the ranch, even Jeffs’ personal journals. There will be a hearing on that Wednesday afternoon, before the jury is formally sworn in.
A convicted member of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints continues to serve prison time while an appeals court weighs his challenge to a search warrant crucial to the case.
When the Third Court of Appeals in Austin rules on the legal arguments by Michael Emack it could impact the case of Warren Jeffs and other FLDS members charged in Schleicher County, legal experts say.
But a decision may not come soon.
“It’s not unusual for a court to scratch its head for six months, 10 months,” said Richard Segura, an Austin criminal defense attorney and lecturer in the University of Texas School of Law criminal defense clinic. “Every case is different.”
The appeals court heard oral arguments as recently as May and has been receiving post-argument briefs since then, Segura noted. He said the court is likely aware that many are watching for a decision, but the court is not supposed to be swayed by public opinion.
Jeffs and other defendants may be ultimately affected by any ruling that comes in Emack’s appeal if they’ve raised a “mirror image” of the same argument, Segura said.
Jeffs’ trial on sexual assault of a child began with jury selection Monday. The trial is expected to last about a month. A sealed court motion by Jeffs challenges evidence produced by a search warrant, apparently similar to the claim by Emack.