Attorneys for Fundamentalist LDS leader Warren Jeffs are asking a judge to dismiss incest charges in the cases pending against him in Arizona.
In papers filed in Mohave County Superior Court in Kingman, Jeffs’ defense team argues that incest charges must be dismissed because Arizona laws require both participants to be “18 or more years of age.”
“In addition, because (suspect) and (victim) are first cousins of the half blood, they are not within the degrees of consanguinity that are defined as incestuous under Arizona law,” attorneys Richard Wright and Michael Piccarreta wrote. “Accordingly, counts 2 and 4 of the indictment must be dismissed, leaving Mr. Jeffs to stand trial as an accomplice to the charges of sexual conduct with a minor.”
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith did not dispute that his victims were both under 18 but wrote in his response that Jeffs “used his position of power and trust to place both victims into so-called ‘marriages’ with men who were over 18 years of age and are related to the victims as first cousins of the half-blood.”
He said that while a plain reading of the statute makes the 18 and older argument, applying it that way leads to absurd results.
“A prosecution of the defendant for incest or accomplice to incest is proper in Mr. Jeffs’ case because he was an adult when the crime occurred,” Smith wrote. “However, with respect to victims (names redacted from the court documents) the two victims cannot be prosecuted because they were both minor children under the age of 18 when the crimes occurred.”
Smith said the relationships between the victims and their husbands in these cases are exactly what Arizona’s law was designed to prevent — marriages of close blood lines that result in children. Wright and Piccarreta countered that prosecutors are asking the courts to engage in “judicial activism.”
“If the prosecution wishes to broaden criminal statutes, change the language of the statute, or eliminate essential elements of the offense, the proper forum is the state legislature, not a superior court judge,” the attorneys wrote.
Jeffs is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on May 16.
The FLDS leader was convicted in Utah last year of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. Jeffs was sentenced to a pair of five-to-life sentences in the Utah State Prison. He is currently incarcerated at the Mohave County Jail, where sheriff’s deputies said he has been kept in isolation since his arrival.
“Since we’ve had him in custody, we’ve had no problem,” said Mohave County sheriff’s spokeswoman Trish Carter. “He is not in bad health. He’s pretty quiet.”
Jeffs is kept in his cell for 23 hours a day. During the hour he is allowed out, he can exercise, make phone calls or receive visitors.
“He’s allowed visitors for twice a week for 30 minutes at a time,” Carter said.
Several followers continue to visit him. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office released the visitor logs to the Deseret News that show he was visited by one of his purported wives, Naomi Jessop, as well as Patricia Keate, of Eldorado, Texas, the day before the raid on the YFZ Ranch.
On April 6, Jessop returned to visit him again. Monica Jessop also visited. On April 9, Naomi Jessop visited him again, as did Lindsay Barlow.
Jeffs resigned as president of the FLDS Church in a statement made public shortly after he was sentenced in Utah last year. The Deseret News first reported last year that Jeffs renounced his title as “prophet” in a series of jailhouse conversations with followers that were caught on tape.
The tapes were eventually made public, but FLDS faithful still apparently revere Jeffs as their religious leader. His photograph was displayed prominently in homes on the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas.