Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs appeals rejected by Utah Supreme Court

The Utah Supreme Court has denied polygamist sect leader Warren S. Jeffs’ appeal seeking a new hearing on three key issues related to his upcoming trial.

The court denied the petition late Tuesday with no comment.

Jeffs’ attorneys filed the interlocutory appeal on April 18, asking the high court to review 5th District Court Judge James L. Shumate’s refusal to move Jeffs’ trial out of Washington County.

Shumate also refused to reverse his decision that there is sufficient evidence to send the case to trial. And he rejected a defense argument that Utah’s rape statute is unconstitutionally vague in defining what constitutes enticement.

So far, the only success Jeffs’ attorneys have had is in getting Shumate to allow their client to wear street clothes at his hearings and scaling back security at the courthouse.

Attorneys Walter Bugden, Tara Isaacson and Richard Wright had argued that widespread media coverage had made it unlikely Jeffs can get a fair hearing before a jury culled from the county.

Shumate was not persuaded by legal arguments or results of a telephone survey that showed a majority of respondents in Washington County have a negative opinion of Jeffs and believe him guilty, even though many could not articulate the charges against him.

Jeffs faces two felony charges of being an accomplice to rape for conducting the marriage of a 19-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl who had objected to the arranged union. His trial is set to begin Sept. 10.

The judge lambasted local newspaper coverage of the case but said he believes a fair jury can still be pulled together.

Shumate has agreed to extensive questioning of an initial pool of about 200 jurors. The judge said that if he is not able to seat a jury after running through about 175 of those candidates, he’ll order the trial moved.

Jeffs’ attorneys also wanted the Utah Supreme Court to look at whether Shumate erred in deciding there was enough evidence to set the case for trial and in upholding the enticement language in Utah’s rape statute.

They argued that Jeffs could not have known that conducting a marriage or encouraging a couple to stay together might be construed as enticement to engage in nonconsensual sex.

Shumate found Jeffs had ample information to know the bride, identified as Jane Doe, did not want to proceed with the marriage or engage in intimate relations with her husband.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday July 9, 2007.
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