PHOENIX – A lawyer for polygamous-sect leader Warren Jeffs, convicted in Utah for arranging a marriage between an underage woman and her cousin, said Monday that he hopes to get a change of venue for his client's related trial in Arizona.
Attorney Mike Piccarreta said Jeffs' fate was sealed once a Utah judge refused to grant a change of venue for his trial there.
Jeffs was sentenced last week in St. George, Utah, to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison for rape as an accomplice, the result of a marriage arranged for a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
The defense had argued unsuccessfully that he could not get a fair trial because of extensive publicity in St. George, in southwest Utah, and sought to shift the case 300 miles to Salt Lake City.
In Arizona, Jeffs faces four felony charges in a 2005 case involving marriages between two teenage girls and older men who were their relatives. He is also charged as an accomplice with four counts of incest and four counts of sexual contact with a minor.
Piccarreta said from his Tucson office that he likely will request a change of venue when Jeffs is brought to Kingman, in Arizona's northwest corner, to face those charges.
"We just need a community with enough distance away from the previous trial so that we can get jurors that are neutral, and secondly, jurors who would not be criticized in the community if they rendered a fair verdict," Piccarreta said. "Kingman is far too close to St. George."
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, whose office is prosecuting the Arizona charges against Jeffs, didn't immediate return a call seeking comment Monday. Smith said last week that it could take two to six months for Jeffs to be brought to Arizona.
Piccarreta said Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff or Prescott would be preferable trial locations. Kingman, a city of about 20,000, is in the same county as Colorado City, Ariz., the town on the Arizona-Utah state line where FLDS church members live.
Piccarreta also said prosecutors are persecuting Jeffs for his religion, not for allegedly arranging marriages between underage girls and older men.
"We definitely cannot believe that Mr. Jeffs had any involvement as an accomplice to any type of sexual misconduct," he said.