(CNN) — Attorneys for Utah polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs are asking a court to delay his extradition to Texas, where he faces charges including aggravated sexual assault of a child, until Utah authorities decide whether to retry him.
“Mr. Jeffs, although presumed innocent, has now been incarcerated for more than four years on charges that, given the [Utah] supreme court’s opinion clarifying the law in Utah, will be difficult if not impossible for the state to sustain,” defense attorneys wrote in the motion filed in Utah’s Third District Court this month.
“The state is punting, using the [Uniform Criminal Extradition Act] as an offensive line to protect its weakened prosecution, buying time until it can figure out what to do next in its now frantic effort to defeat Mr. Jeffs and the unpopular religion he represents,” the motion said.
The Utah Supreme Court in July overturned Jeffs’ conviction on two counts of being an accomplice to rape, saying that instructions given to jurors were erroneous. Jeffs was accused of using his religious influence over his followers to coerce a 14-year-old girl into marrying her 19-year-old cousin. He was sentenced to two consecutive prison terms of five years to life.
The defense argues that the Interstate Agreement on Detainers — a federal law under which a state can obtain custody of a person even if the person is already incarcerated in another state — no longer applies to Jeffs, as his status changed with the Utah Supreme Court’s ruling. Jeffs is now presumed innocent of all charges against him, defense attorneys claim, and extraditing him to Texas would violate his constitutional rights.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed an extradition warrant in August at the urging of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In Texas, Jeffs faces a felony charge of sexual assault of a child, as well as charges of sexual assault and bigamy, according to the warrant. If convicted, he could face a sentence of five to 99 years or life in prison.
Polygamist leader’s attorneys fight extradition
Jeffs is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The southern Utah-based church practices polygamy in arranged marriages that have sometimes involved underage girls.
Jeffs’ attorneys argue in an Oct. 8 state court filing in that he shouldn’t be extradited to Texas until charges against him in Utah have been resolved.
A hearing is set for Nov. 15 in Utah’s 3rd District Court.
Utah Assistant Attorney General Craig Barlow said the state would file a response to the petition Friday.
“We do dispute both the factual accuracy and the legal sufficiency of their arguments,” he said.
Jeffs alleges ‘conspiracy’ in Texas extradition move
Jeffs is the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has about 10,000 members, mostly in Utah, Arizona, Texas and British Columbia, Canada. Wall testified during Jeffs’ trial that she objected to the union and, initially, to having sex with her husband, but Jeffs ignored her requests to be let out of the marriage.
Defense attorneys Walter Bugden Jr. and Tara Isaacson say Jeffs wants his new trial as soon as possible. Otherwise, Utah authorities should dismiss the charges, the defense says.
If Jeffs is sent to Texas — where he is charged with bigamy, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault for his alleged spiritual marriages to two underage girls — it could be years before he is returned to Utah.
“Rather than finish the fight, Utah wants to call time-out so it can lick its wounds and regroup,” according to defense documents, which allege a “conspiracy” between Utah and Texas.