Prosecutor: Polygamist Warren Jeffs likely to stay in jail

ST. GEORGE, Utah (CNN) — Federal authorities are prepared to file charges against polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs if a judge grants bond, a Utah prosecutor said Wednesday.

Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said he would oppose bond, but wasn’t worried about the former fugitive going free before he is tried on two counts of being an accomplice to rape.

Belnap disclosed the plan to keep Jeffs behind bars after the sect leader’s first court appearance on charges stemming from his practice of arranging “spiritual marriages” between young girls and older men.

Pale, gaunt and dressed in green jail scrubs, Jeffs appeared via closed-circuit television from the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah.

The 50-year-old leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told Judge James Shumate he has a Nevada attorney, Richard Wright, but also wants a Utah lawyer.

Jeffs returns to court on September 11 to advise the judge on how his search for a lawyer is going. The judge scheduled a preliminary hearing on September 19.

Jeffs was captured in a traffic stop on August 28 near Las Vegas, Nevada. He had been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list since May.

Bond hearing set

The judge said he will also take up any request for bond on September 19. Prosecutors have filed a motion to keep Jeffs jailed with no bond.

Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap told reporters that he is not concerned that Jeffs may be released on bond. Should Shumate set bond for Jeffs, he said, the U.S. Attorney’s office plans to step in and keep him jailed on federal charges

None of Jeffs’ followers appeared at the courthouse some 25 miles from the polygamous communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Jeffs is believed to be God’s only living prophet by his estimated 10,000 followers.

Authorities were ready for a “worst-case scenario,” said St. George police spokesman Craig Harding. It was the first time SWAT units had been used at the courthouse, he said.

Jeffs was flown by helicopter Tuesday from Las Vegas to the Purgatory jail. He previously had waived extradition.

Prosecutor not worried about bond

Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith told reporters Jeffs was being held in administrative segregation and likely would be kept there, largely for his own safety. He is locked in his cell for 23 hours a day, and let out for an hour in order to shower, make phone calls and receive visitors.

Jeffs is also wanted in Arizona on two counts of sexual conduct with a minor for allegedly presiding over underage marriages, along with an additional charge of conspiracy. The charges carry a maximum sentence of six years.

If convicted in the Utah case, Jeffs could be sent to prison for five years to life.

The FLDS freely practices polygamy in Utah and Arizona, and maintains groups of followers in Texas, South Dakota, Nevada, Mexico and British Columbia, Canada.

The offshoot sect broke from the mainline Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Salt Lake City, over the practice of polygamy. The Mormon church, which gave up plural marriage more than a century ago, has no ties to Jeffs’ group.

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Sep. 7, 2006
Gary Tuchman

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday September 7, 2006.
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