Polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs issued a statement Wednesday saying he has resigned as president of the legal entity that oversees the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Jeffs officially stepped down from the post Nov. 20, the same day he was sentenced to two five-to-life terms at the Utah State Prison after being convicted of rape as an accomplice.
Jeffs asked his attorneys to release the statement to media and members of the FLDS Church.
It reads: “Mr. Jeffs resigned as president of the Corporation of the President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc. on November, 20, 2007.”
The sect in 1961 adopted a corporate structure similar to that of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By giving the president “corporate sole” status, the sect secured legal standing as a religious organization and allowed for the faith’s continuation from one president to another.
Jeffs, 52, had held the title since 2002, when he succeeded his father, Rulon, as FLDS president and, in the eyes of his followers, the faith’s prophet.
A second corporate entity was set up to collect tithing and handle some church businesses, such as a farm located in Beryl.
Salt Lake attorney Rod Parker helped the sect amend its corporate structure in 1997 and again in 2002.
“For the church to have a secular legal existence, they will have to put someone new in there,” Parker said.
That does not have to be the faith’s president, he said.
“We can’t conclude by virtue of his resignation as president of the corporation sole what he intends with regards to his religious office as prophet,” Parker said.
It is unclear whether Jeffs continues as the faith’s prophet. In January, just before attempting suicide, Jeffs told family and key sect members he had never been a prophet and named William E. Jessop as the faith’s rightful leader.
He apparently later backed away from those statements.
Bruce R. Wisan, who oversees the sect’s communal property trust, said Jeffs’ action would not have any effect on lawsuits pending against him and the trust.
Jethro Barlow, a former FLDS member who worked as an accountant for the church, said the meaning of Jeffs’ action may become clear when “we see what happens next” – whether someone is put in the position or the corporation is dissolved.
“I would have to read into it some how that the corporate structure or church cash flow is distancing itself from [Jeffs’] personal problems,” Barlow said. “More than likely his counselors or lawyers are indicating that it is illegal or impossible for him to function in that capacity while he is in jail.”
On Tuesday, Jeffs’ attorneys also filed a motion seeking a new trial because of “errors and improprieties” during Jeffs’ September trial but did not file a document explaining those errors.
The defense team has characterized Jeffs’ as a victim of religious persecution. More specifically, Jeffs’ attorneys have said the trial judge erred in making his jury instructions and that the state’s case was insufficient for a jury to find Jeffs’ guilty of a crime.