HURRICANE, Washington County — Jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs refused Friday to assist a former follower in the man’s fight to be reunited with a toddler son that he hasn’t been able to hold for 13 months.
Wendell Musser, 22, had hoped to learn where his former wife, Vivian Barlow, and their son, Levi, have been and where they are now. He is certain that Jeffs can make that happen if he wants to, said Roger Hoole, Musser’s attorney.
“Why he (Jeffs) is keeping this father and boy away from each other makes no sense,” said Hoole, who interviewed Jeffs under oath at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane about Musser’s missing family. “But there are a lot of things involving Warren Jeffs that make no sense.”
Jeffs, 51, is considered by members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church to be their president and prophet. In recent years, dozens of men have been exiled and lost their families after Jeffs said they were no longer worthy to hold the priesthood and lead their families.
Musser once worked for Jeffs as a caretaker for several of the church leader’s wives, helping the women move between safe houses in Colorado while Jeffs was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. After being picked up on suspicion of drunk driving in Colorado, Musser was told to leave everyone and everything behind and return to Hildale, where he could repent. He returned to the polygamist community.
But Musser said he was never forgiven. Instead, he was stripped of his young family and told he no longer held the priesthood. Musser was then exiled and his family reassigned.
Musser sued Jeffs for access to his family, which produced a quick visit to Hildale in May where he saw Vivian and Levi, accompanied by several FLDS men. His ex-wife refused to let him hold Levi and wouldn’t talk about his rights as a father, Musser said.
Last week, 5th District Judge James L. Shumate ordered Jeffs to provide Musser with information that would lead to immediate and continuing contact with the child and his mother. A deadline of July 25 came and went, which led to Friday’s hourlong deposition hearing. Jeffs’ Nevada attorney, Richard Wright, also attended the deposition, which was recorded.
Jeffs cordially answered the preliminary questions, said Hoole, but the atmosphere changed when the attorney produced a photo of Musser, Vivian and Levi.
“I asked him if he could identify the people in the photograph, and he referred to a paper he was holding that his attorney had given him earlier,” said Hoole. “He refused to answer on the grounds that he would incriminate himself in a criminal matter. I don’t know what criminal case he’s talking about, though.”
Hoole said he asked Jeffs to read Shumate’s order out loud, which he did.
“I asked him if he would meet privately with Wendell if he came to the jail to see him, and he wouldn’t answer the question. He seemed almost like a lost boy, looking to his lawyer for guidance,” said Hoole. “It’s sad that he has to invoke the Fifth Amendment. I don’t think it even applies; this is a civil matter.”
Shumate’s order includes steep financial sanctions against Jeffs for refusing to comply and could lead Hoole to seek similar injunctions against anyone he believes knows how to contact Musser’s son.
“I got the sense that he (Jeffs) had no interest in helping Wendell reunite with his son,” said Hoole. “I’m not surprised, but it makes no sense. This family will be reunited.”
Jeffs remains jailed awaiting trial on two first-degree felony counts charges of rape as an accomplice for uniting in the marriage of a 14-year-old girl with her 19-year-old cousin in a spiritual marriage. That trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 10 in St. George.