SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Attorney General’s Office is asking the state Supreme Court to reject an attempt to move the trial of a polygamous-sect leader out of Washington County.
Jeffs’ attorneys contend he is a victim of religious persecution. They also claim he won’t get a fair trial in St. George, where they say extensive publicity has tainted the jury pool, and instead want to shift the case 300 miles to Salt Lake City.
That’s not necessary, say state attorneys.
“Defendants own polling data shows the same percentage of persons in Washington and Salt Lake (counties) have yet to form an opinion on defendant’s guilt,” Assistant Attorney General Laura B. Dupaix wrote in a document filed last week.
Jeffs, 51, is president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which practices polygamy and arranged marriage and has 10,000 members on the Utah-Arizona border.
He is charged with rape as an accomplice. Authorities allege that he used his position of trust to command a 14-year-old girl to marry and have sex with her 19-year-old cousin over her objections in 2001.
Trial in St. George is set for Sept. 10.
“We have a greater likelihood of getting impartial people in Salt Lake. The change-in-venue motion is uniquely well suited to appellate review before the trial,” defense attorney Wally Bugden said Thursday.
Fifth District Judge James Shumate has said the trial will stay in Washington County unless he can’t find enough fair-minded jurors.
As for Bugden’s request to dismiss charges, the Attorney General’s Office cited the girl’s testimony at a preliminary hearing last year. She said she made Jeffs aware that she objected to getting married to a cousin she always disliked.
“I honestly just wanted to die,” she testified.
She said Jeffs warned that she would lose her salvation if she didn’t make the marriage work and submit herself to her husband. The man has not been charged.
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