Polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs renounced his role as prophet in January, telling family and select followers the Lord considered him a “wicked man” for immoral acts as a young man, according to a court document released Tuesday.
In a series of telephone calls and jailhouse visit, Jeffs said he had been immoral with a sister and daughter when he was 20 and since then had not held the priesthood in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Jeffs, 51, did not elaborate on the nature of his conduct in those calls and the court document – originally filed under seal in July by Jeffs’ attorneys – doesn’t provide any explanation.
He retracted the statements in February, explaining in a new series of telephone calls that he had “experienced a great spiritual test.” Ward Jeffs, a half-brother, said Tuesday that Warren Jeffs was either single or a newlywed at age 20, adding that he was “99.9 percent sure” Jeffs had no daughter at the time.
During this period, Jeffs suffered what has since been described as a mental and physical breakdown, brought on by extended fasting and time spent on his knees praying.
He was taken to Dixie Regional Medical Center on Jan. 28 and treated there briefly for an undisclosed medical problem. His health recovered in February but ebbed again in March.
He was so visibly detached during a March 27 court hearing that 5th District Judge James L. Shumate ordered that he undergo a mental health evaluation.
The calls and visit were recorded by officials at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, where Jeffs is currently incarcerated. Prosecutors had sought to use the statements during Jeffs’ September trial on being an accomplice to rape related to an arranged marriage.
But Jeffs’ attorneys object, and Shumate agreed, temporarily sealing the documents on the grounds they could impair Jeffs’ right to a fair trial. He said he would revisit his order after the trial.
Shumate scheduled a hearing for Tuesday in response to petitions seeking access to the information.
The release of the document came as a surprise to Jeffs’ attorneys.
“I had no idea,” said attorney Walter F. Bugden, who had argued against the release. “It’s very unusual for a judge to make this sort of decision without giving the attorneys an opportunity to be heard.
“There are significant due process issues for Mr. Jeffs as it relates to future cases in Arizona and there are significant privacy issues that we believe are protected by [the state records act],” he said.
But the debate may be over now that the court has put the document in its public file.
“It may leave nothing to argue about on November 6 because this is the heart of what the media were requesting,” said Jeff Hunt, an attorney representing a media coalition. “I also think it is recognition there was no longer any compelling interest that needed to be protected in keeping these documents secret.”
Bugden said he did not have any additional information about Jeffs’ reference to immoral conduct.
“It’s an incredibly vague, ambiguous, unclear reference to something that happened when Mr. Jeffs was 20 years old and who knows what that means,” he said. “It’s certainly open to wild interpretation.”