Judge considers dropping incest charges against Warren Jeffs

Lawyers for Warren Jeffs asked an Arizona judge Friday to drop incest charges against the imprisoned polygamist leader.

Jeffs, who was convicted in a similar case last year in Utah, is charged in Mohave County as an accomplice with four counts each of incest and sexual conduct. The charges stem from two arranged marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives, one of whom was in his 50s.

Jeffs’ lawyers argued during a court hearing in Kingman that prosecutors can either file sex with a minor charges or incest charges, but not both, and they want the incest charges dismissed.

Also, in both of the marriages, the brides and grooms were half cousins and allowed to marry in Arizona, lawyer Mike Piccarreta said.

“So it’s not incest,” Piccarreta said. “The crime doesn’t fit the statute.”

Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steven Conn did not make a decision Friday. If Conn agrees with the defense lawyers, Jeffs would still face charges as an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor.

Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has been investigated for years on allegations he was contributing to illegal sexual conduct among his followers.

He was sentenced in Utah to two prison terms of five years to life after being convicted last year of rape as an accomplice in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

Many FLDS members live in the twin border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. Others have moved to a compound in Eldorado, Texas.

Texas authorities raided the Eldorado compound six weeks ago after someone called a domestic abuse hot line. They later seized the children, arguing that church leaders forced underage girls into marriage and sex.

The mainstream Mormon church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago. It excommunicates members who engage in the practice and disavows any connection with the FLDS church.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday May 17, 2008.
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