ST. GEORGE, Utah – Looking pale and gaunt in a green-striped jail uniform, polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs made an initial appearance via closed-circuit TV on Wednesday before a Utah court, where he is accused of arranging a marriage between an underage girl and an older man.
Jeffs, 50, is charged in Utah with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice, accused of having arranged a "spiritual marriage" between a teenage girl and an older man. Each count carries a penalty of up to life in prison if convicted. He is being held in the Purgatory Correctional Facility in nearby Hurricane.
Judge James L. Shumate set a preliminary hearing date for Sept. 19 at which time the issue of bail will be addressed.
Jeffs said little during the proceeding other than to say his Nevada lawyer is helping him find counsel in Utah.
Since 2002, Jeffs has been the leader of the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — a sect that broke away from the Mormon church more than a century ago and has been disavowed by the Mormons. Most of its members live in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
Jeffs has led the polygamist sect in absentia since about 2004, when he disappeared after civil lawsuits alleged sexual and emotional abuse against a handful of young men, including a nephew, who claimed they were booted from their families by Jeffs.
Jeffs had been considered a fugitive from justice since 2005, when Arizona authorities charged him with two felonies, accusing him of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 28-year-old man. He was named to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list in May.
Jeffs was arrested Aug. 28 during a traffic stop north of Las Vegas. He was transferred to Utah from Nevada on Tuesday.
In Utah, Washington County prosecutors contend Jeffs forced a teenage girl from his sect who was under 18 to marry and have sex with an older man.
The alleged marriage took place some time within the past four years, when the girl was between age of 14 and 18, according to Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap. "Jane Doe," as the girl is referred to in court documents, objected to the marriage but was told by Jeffs that she must give herself "mind, body and soul" to her husband, court papers said.
Jeffs, who decides which of his followers marry and to whom, told the girl that she would lose her salvation if she did not obey her husband, court papers said.
By some estimates, Jeffs has more than 40 wives and about six dozen children who have lived in million-dollar homes that cover an entire Hildale city block, surrounded by 14-foot brick walls and locked gates. It is not known if his families remained on the premises while he was a fugitive.