ST. GEORGE – A 5th District Court judge will close a portion of a hearing Friday as attorneys argue whether jailhouse statements made by polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs should be heard by jurors in his upcoming trial.
Judge James L. Shumate said the statements are of “such a nature that to disseminate them in any way, shape or form” in advance would impair Jeffs’ right to fair trial.
Shumate also said public disclosure of the statements would place “such a cloud” over the proceedings that he “could not feel good about picking a jury in the state of Utah.”
The judge issued his ruling Tuesday after an hour-long closed hearing, held in his chambers with the attorneys.
“All we’re asking is that the judge listen to this particular evidence on Friday and see if . . . the jury should hear it,” said Walter Bugden, one of Jeffs’ attorneys, outside court.
Shumate decided, however, that arguments about whether to allow two former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to testify during Jeffs’ trial will be conducted in open court Friday.
Jeffs’ attorneys want to bar Richard Holm and Jethro Barlow as state witnesses. Richard Holm was a leading businessman in the FLDS community before he was exiled in 2003 by Jeffs. His two wives and children were subsequently placed with a younger brother.
Holm has been a key witness in Arizona prosecutions related to marriages that involved minors. Prosecutors relied on him during those jury trials to describe FLDS marriage practices and priesthood teachings.
Barlow was an accountant for the FLDS church, many of its businesses and several high-ranking members before leaving the faith in 2003 with his wives and children. He currently is assisting special fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan, who is overseeing a property trust once run by the FLDS.
On Tuesday, Bugden characterized the men’s potential testimony as “opinion” that isn’t relevant in the case and could contribute to a “generalized picture” of Jeffs as “evil,” months from the start of his trial.
Budgen said Holm would discuss the increasing number of underage marriages under Jeffs’ leadership, and Jeffs’ dictates to couples about their sex lives.
Jeffs’ trial on two felony counts of being an accomplice to rape is set to begin Sept. 10. The charges stem from a 2001 marriage the sect leader conducted that involved a 14-year-old girl who objected to the union.
Jeff Hunt, a Salt Lake attorney representing a media coalition, told Shumate that both men have already been widely covered in the press. He also said jury selection “tools,” such as extensive questioning, are sufficient to weed out potential jurors tainted by pre-trial media coverage.
“A fair trial does not mean a closed trial,” Hunt said.
Bugden withdrew motions seeking to exclude three other witnesses – Andrew Chatwin, Lori Chatwin and Shirley Black – after learning the state will not call on them at Jeffs’ trial.
The Chatwins are former FLDS members who have been outspoken critics of Jeffs.
At the hearing, Jeffs appeared thin but healthy. He talked animatedly with his attorneys and smiled broadly at the 10 supporters on hand.
Shumate said his decision to keep a portion of Friday’s hearing open was based in part on the regular attendance of those supporters, who “have every right to see these proceedings against a person they hold in high esteem.”