Warren Jeffs to be sentenced Today

A nearly 10-year campaign to stop underage marriages in one of Utah’s largest polygamous sects will record a victory today as Warren S. Jeffs is sentenced to prison.

The ruling today by 5th District Judge James L. Shumate will determine in part how long Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, spends in prison.

He could be there for the rest of his life.

A jury convicted Jeffs in September on two counts of rape as an accomplice, punishable by a sentence of five years to life. The charges were based on an arranged marriage Jeffs conducted in 2001 between Elissa Wall and Allen Steed, her cousin. Wall was 14 at the time, while Steed was 19.

Wall testified during Jeffs’ trial that she objected to the marriage and, later, to having sex with her husband but Jeffs ignored her protests and counseled her to stay in the union.

Jurors said they were convinced Jeffs, 51, had the authority to intervene and help Wall get out of her unwanted marriage but simply refused.

Shumate will decide whether Jeffs serves his sentences concurrently or consecutively. The Utah Board of Pardons & Parole, which will review his case in 2010, will decide how long Jeffs’ actually serves. On average, first-degree felony sex offenders stay in prison about seven years.

Before Shumate’s rules on Jeffs’ sentence, however, he must deal with a motion by Jeffs’ attorneys to toss the jury’s decision. They argue the jury had insufficient evidence to reach the guilty verdicts. Prosecutors have asked the judge to let the decision stand.

As advised by his attorneys, Jeffs did not give a pre-sentencing interview out of concern his statements might be used against him in other cases.

Jeffs’ family and followers also did not submit letters of support to the court, typically done to plead for leniency in sentencing.

Shumate received letters from four people who have no ties to the sect asking that Jeffs get the harshest sentence possible. One woman even asked that Jeffs serve his time in an Alabama or Mississippi prison.

The judge also received a letter from Ezra Draper, a former FLDS member, who asked that Jeffs be given the opportunity to help “fix the lives of those that he has injured” and educate followers about his “deception.” If Jeffs is unwilling, Draper said, he should receive the most severe sentence.

Draper, who left the sect in 2002 after becoming disillusioned with Jeffs, shares state officials’ hope that followers will see Jeffs as a destructive, rogue leader who has committed “spiritual crimes against human beings.”

“Lives are hanging in the balance,” Draper said in his letter to the judge.

Jeffs said much the same thing in a series of telephone calls and a visit with a brother in January. Shumate had sealed transcripts of those visits but released them on Nov. 6.

In the visits, Jeffs said he had improperly seized control of the FLDS church, renounced his role as the sect’s leader and called himself the “most wicked man” since the time of Joseph Smith. He asked that his apology be shared with current and former church members.

Jeffs’ tried to commit suicide shortly after making the statements. His attorneys have said he experienced a mental breakdown brought on by extensive fasting and months in solitary confinement.

Jeffs has been jailed at the Purgatory Correctional Facility since his arrest on Aug. 28, 2005, which ended a 15-month, multi-state effort to capture him.

Utah officials targeted the sect, which practices arranged and plural marriage, in the late 1990s after leaders refused to stop marrying off underage teenage girls.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday November 20, 2007.
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