Court bars Warren Jeffs jailhouse words

Judge refers to the ‘prejudicial impact’ of such statements

ST. GEORGE – Prosecutors will not be able to use jailhouse statements made by polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs in his upcoming trial, a judge ruled Friday.

Fifth District Judge James L. Shumate said he may revisit his decision if evidence presented at trial “overpowers” the “prejudicial impact” of the statements.

Earlier in the week, Shumate had characterized them as “of such a nature that to disseminate them in any way, shape or form” would impair Jeffs’ right to a fair trial.

“We’re happy with the judge’s rulings that some of the evidence the state was trying to introduce was inadmissable,” said Walter Bugden, one of Jeffs’ three attorneys, as he left the courthouse.

That ruling, which came after an hour-long private meeting with attorneys in the judge’s chambers, was the most decisive of four victories for Jeffs’ defense team.

The judge agreed that during the trial, set to begin Sept. 10, the young woman at the crux of the charges against Jeffs will be referred to by her last name, rather than as the “victim.” Early court documents and the media have referred to her as Jane Doe.

Jeffs also will be addressed by his surname, rather than as the “defendant,” the judge said. Use of names avoids prejudicial characterizations, he said.

“Let’s just use names and not have any problems,” Shumate said.

Jeffs is charged with two felony counts of being an accomplice to rape. The counts stem from a 2001 marriage Jeffs allegedly conducted with a 14-year-old bride who objected to the union.

The judge also set a day-long hearing for Aug. 20 to hear the testimony offered by state witnesses Richard Holm and Jethro Barlow. Both men are former members of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the sect run by Jeffs.

The judge will then decide whether they will testify during the trial.

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Barlow was an accountant for the church, many of its businesses and several high-ranking members before he left the faith in 2003. Holm was a leading businessman in the community before he was exiled in 2003 by Jeffs.

According to statements made to investigators, the men would describe how underage marriages increased under Jeffs’ leadership and discuss his dictates to couples about their sex lives.

“We believe these two witnesses can help lay further foundation as to the workings of this community and its adherence to Mr. Jeffs” and his teachings, assistant Washington County prosecutor Ryan Shaum said in court Friday.

Defense attorneys argue the men are disgruntled ex-FLDS members who didn’t like Jeffs’ leadership style and have been outspoken critics of him. Their testimony would be irrelevant and cause the jury to make a decision based on an “overmastering” hostility toward Jeffs, said attorney Tara Isaacson.

“Mr. Jeffs is charged with being an accomplice to rape, not with how he managed the church, or with underage marriage,” she said.

The judge also decided prosecutors can proceed only with an allegation that Jeffs was involved in enticing Jane Doe to engage in sexual intimacy with her husband, and cannot argue that he coerced her.

Shumate said he found no evidence during an April preliminary hearing that the young girl had received any “garden variety” threats of harm.

For the first time, Jeffs’ mother, Merilyn Steed, attended the public portions of the hearing. As she entered, she mouthed “Hi” to Jeffs. Several brothers, including Nephi Jeffs, and about 20 supporters also attended the hearing.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Salt Lake Tribune, USA
July 21, 2007
Brooke Adams

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This post was last updated: Saturday, July 21, 2007 at 1:00 PM, Central European Time (CET)