ST. GEORGE, Utah: Attorneys for polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs will ask the Utah Supreme Court to overturn a judge’s ruling that Jeff’s criminal trial should stay in the county where his group is based.
Fifth District Judge James L. Shumate on Tuesday rejected the defense’s request to move the trial out of Washington County, although he acknowledged the jury pool may be tainted by months of publicity about Jeffs and his faith.
Jeffs, 51, is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice in the spiritual marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin in 2001. No trial date has been set.
Most members of his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints live in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah €” in Washington County €” and Colorado City, Arizona. The sect split from mainstream Mormonism after the broader church renounced polygamy in 1890.
Jeffs’ attorneys wanted the trial moved to Salt Lake County, where they said their polling data showed less bias toward their client.
Shumate said news articles and opinion pieces in St. George’s daily newspaper, The Spectrum, had provided an unjustifiable and inappropriate drumbeat of influence since Jeffs was arrested last fall near Las Vegas.
“That is an abuse of the nearly unfettered power of the press,” he said.
Despite denying the defense motion for an immediate change of venue, Shumate said he would order a move if it appeared an impartial jury could not be empaneled.
The defense attorneys took no questions after the hearing and there was no immediate indication when they would go to the Supreme Court.
Jeffs also faces felony sex charges in Mohave County, Arizona, where Colorado City is located, for his alleged role in two underage marriages. He is under federal indictment that accused him of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
We appreciate your support
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.