LAS VEGAS – A cooperative victim, a tougher penalty and a shot at higher bail have given Utah authorities the first crack at prosecuting polygamous prophet Warren Steed Jeffs.
The state will request during a hearing Thursday in Las Vegas that Jeffs be extradited to Utah to face two counts of rape, a first- degree felony, for his alleged accomplice role in arranging an underage marriage within the last four years.
Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was arrested Monday night after a routine traffic stop by a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper just outside of Las Vegas on Interstate 15.
He is being held without bail at the Clark County Detention Center, where his brother Issac, who had been with him at his arrest, visited Jeffs late Tuesday. On Wednesday, the center said Jeffs was no longer being allowed visitors and had refused to grant interviews.
He is in a single cell, without a roommate, a spokeswoman said.
In Thursday’s hearing, expected to last no more than 15 minutes, Jeffs has two options: waive his right to an extradition hearing or fight it. He can fight the extradition only by arguing that he is not the person charged in the case.
By late Wednesday, no counsel was listed for him and Nevada is not required to provide him with an attorney for an extradition hearing.
Who’s on first?
After Jeffs’ capture, Utah and Arizona authorities began strategizing about his prosecution. In a conference call Wednesday, Utah took the lead, at least for now.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said prosecutors agreed to seek extradition to Utah first because Jeffs is charged with first- degree felonies in Utah, which carry sentences of five years to life in prison. Those are much tougher than the four-month to two-year penalty possible under the Arizona charges.
The stiffer charges mean Jeffs could be required to post a larger bail in Utah, Belnap said, or a judge could decide not to grant bail.
Bail “was obviously a concern because of the amount of effort that went into locating him and finding him,” Belnap said. “We don’t want to lose him again.” The $500,000 bail previously set for the Utah charges was revoked by a 5th District judge Wednesday. It is possible the Arizona charges could still go to trial first, depending on court calendars and other issues, he noted.
An Arizona case stalls: The decision to let Utah proceed first came a day after one case against Jeffs may have unraveled in a separate proceeding in a Mohave County courtroom.
In that case, a woman whom Jeffs allegedly assigned as a plural wife to Randolph Barlow when she was a minor refused to answer all but the most rudimentary questions, prompting the judge to find her in contempt of court.
“If she is not going to testify against Randy Barlow, it’s even less likely she is going to testify against Warren Jeffs,” said Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith.
The woman told a grand jury last May that she opposed the marriage in part because, at age 16, she was not ready to become a mother. In Arizona, it is a crime to engage in sexual conduct with anyone under age 18, and Jeffs was indicted on two sex crime charges for allegedly arranging the spiritual marriage.
Now 20, the woman had negotiated to have two sexual assault charges against Barlow dropped before the trial. But as it began Tuesday, it was clear the woman had heard of Jeffs’ arrest, Smith said. As she began answering questions, her mother, a faithful FLDS member, moved into her line of sight and the woman fell silent.
“If that [Jeffs’ capture] hadn’t happened I think it is way more likely she would have testified,” a disappointed Smith said Wednesday.
“You need … live witnesses.”
Barlow’s trial has been continued until Sept. 26. If the woman continues to refuse to testify, he could be acquitted, Smith said.
Seven other men have been indicted on the same charges. Barlow was the second man to go to trial. The first, Kelly Fischer, has been convicted and sentenced to 45 days in jail.
In the Fischer and other cases, Smith has relied on birth certificates to prove the men fathered children with minors.
“That doesn’t work for Warren,” he admitted Wednesday. “You need some people who are actually live witnesses” to the marriages.
Smith said he has one other “somewhat willing” alleged victim – Ruth Stubbs, a former plural wife of ex-Hildale police officer Rodney Holm. She is prepared to testify about Jeffs’ role in conducting her plural marriage in 1998, when Jeffs’ father, Rulon T. Jeffs, was the FLDS prophet but had been disabled by a stroke.
“Ready and willing to testify.”
Finding a willing witness is not an obstacle in Utah, where Washington County authorities charged Jeffs in April for allegedly arranging the underage marriage.
“I’m confident she [the alleged victim] is going to be prepared and ready and willing to testify when that time comes,” Belnap said.
In court documents filed in April, the girl, identified only as “Jane Doe,” recounted being told by Jeffs to marry a much older man or risk jeopardizing her salvation.
The girl, who was a resident of Hildale and was between 14 and 18 at the time of plural marriage, told Jeffs she was too young to marry and didn’t want to have sexual relations. He told her the assignment came from God and she had a duty to comply, according to court documents.
She and the man, identified only as “John Doe,” went to Caliente, Nev., where Jeffs performed a marriage ceremony at a motel. Belnap said photographs document her account.
The trial in the Utah case would be held in 5th District Court in St. George, about 40 miles south of the polygamous sect’s homebase of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. About 6,000 Jeffs’ followers live in the twin towns.