(CNN) — The Utah Court of Appeals said that polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs‘ extradition to Texas has been halted while the court considers his appeal of the extradition order, documents showed Monday.
The Utah Supreme Court in July overturned Jeffs’ conviction on two counts of being an accomplice to rape, saying 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.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in August signed an extradition warrant 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.
Jeffs’ attorneys filed the motion for a stay last month, saying Utah “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 defense argued 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.
The court stayed the extradition until it can decide on Jeffs’ appeal of the extradition order, requiring a response from the state by close of business Wednesday.
Stay granted on Warren Jeffs extradition
Jeffs is charged in Texas with bigamy, aggravated sexual assault of a child and sexual assault.
The first two charges against Jeffs are based on an alleged spiritual marriage between Jeffs and a 12-year-old girl in 2006 at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas. The third involves a child Jeffs allegedly fathered with another underage girl the year before.
Prosecutors filed those charges two years ago, following a raid on the YFZ Ranch by Texas authorities after Jeffs was imprisoned in Utah. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed extradition papers two days after Jeffs’ conviction was overturned, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert approved them.
Jeffs is the ecclesiastical leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sect has about 10,000 members, mostly in Utah, Arizona, Texas and British Columbia, Canada.
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