After he fired his team of high-profile attorneys, Warren Jeffs sat silent Thursday as Texas prosecutors began to lay out evidence that he sexually assaulted two underage girls — including an audiotape of one alleged assault on a 12-year-old.
Jeffs is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The state also has DNA evidence that he fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl, said prosecutor Eric Nichols.
Jeffs, the 55-year-old leader of a polygamous sect, is accused of taking both girls as plural wives.
As court opened Thursday morning, Jeffs insisted upon representing himself in a rambling 30-minute speech.
With his hands clasped in front of him, chin down, Jeffs looked straight ahead and paused frequently as he spoke in a lilting, sermon-like voice. He told the judge he wanted more time to prepare his own “pure defense,” saying he wanted the “truth to be presented in a way that entails the knowledge thereof.”
Regarding Jeffs’ request, the San Angelo Standard-Times writes
Walther recessed for an hour and 20 minutes, returned and begged him to reconsider.
“Mr. Jeffs, you may have assembled the most impressive legal team this court has ever seen, and perhaps in the state of Texas,” Walther said.
Walther said that in her 30 years practicing law, she had never seen anyone successfully represent themselves.
She also made it clear that Jeffs would not be receiving more time, having gone through other attorneys even before hiring the latest seven lawyers.
After Jeffs said he wanted some days to learn about legal matters, Walther said the court “will not recess proceedings for you to go to law school.”
He said nothing as the prosecution offered evidence, never saying whether he objected to its being admitted. Walther was concerned enough to call another recess so attorneys could advise Jeffs on “the perils of remaining silent.”
Afterward, Walther asked if he was ready to proceed.
“I am,” he said.
At The Polygamy Blog, part of the Salt Lake Tribune, Lindsay Whitehurst comments
So what’s Warren Jeffs doing, first by firing all his high-profile lawyers, insisting on representing himself and then sitting silently as the trial begins? […]
Here were the thoughts going through my head: Jeffs has consistently told his people that this trial was never going to happen, that God would deliver him from jail. Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints followers even built a mansion in Hildale for him to live in when he was supposed to be freed around the first of the year, said Sam Brower, private investigator and author of “Prophet’s Prey.”
“I’m thinking he’s desperate to make his prophecy come true,” he said.
By refusing to participate in the trial, Jeffs could also be following his own “answer them nothing” principle — ignoring the court as he reportedly told his followers do.
(Here’s a 2005 story about the idea in connection with the sect’s communal property trust, which was taken over by the state of Utah).
Eric Nichols, a special prosecutor representing the Texas attorney general’s office, said in his opening statement that jurors would hear a recording of Jeffs having sex in August 2006 with a girl who recently turned 12. He said DNA evidence would show Jeffs fathered a child after having sex in January 2005 with a girl who was then 15. Both alleged rapes occurred at the Yearning for Zion compound.
Nichols said both girls entered into “spiritual” marriages with Jeffs. Neither is expected to testify against him.
When it was time for his opening statement, Jeffs stayed seated and said nothing. He then didn’t take notes or even pay attention as the prosecution called five witnesses – police officials and investigators who described obtaining DNA evidence from Jeffs and the alleged victims.
Also testifying was Nevada highway patrolman Eddie Dutchover, who described a highway traffic stop in August 2006 when Jeffs was arrested. Inside the red Cadillac Escalade he was riding in, investigators found an external hard drive which is believed to contain the audio recording Nichols has promised to play for the jury.