SALT LAKE CITY – Warren Jeffs, the leader of a polygamous-sect for five years, resigned his position as president of his church on Nov. 20 — the same day he was sentenced to prison for convictions on two counts of rape as an accomplice, his attorney said Wednesday.
Information about Jeffs' resignation as head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints came in a statement from defense attorney Wally Bugden that was faxed to media outlets. The statement says Jeffs wanted the information released to reporters and church members.
An assistant at Bugden's law office said no one would be responding to questions from media.
It's unclear if that means Jeffs also surrendered his religious authority as the faith's prophet.
In January, a despondent Jeffs attempted to hang himself after telling his brother he was "not the one to be the prophet." He later renounced the statement and has continued to pass spiritual and practical messages to church members through visitors.
On Tuesday, lawyers asked a 5th District Court judge to grant Jeffs a new trial, claiming "errors and improprieties" occurred during the four-day trial in September. Court documents gave no specifics, but defense attorneys have contended that Jeffs' prosecution was a form of religious persecution and was politically motivated by state officials who disapprove of polygamy.
A telephone message left by The Associated Press for Brian G. Filter, a deputy Washington County attorney, was not immediately returned.
A jury found Jeffs guilty of two counts of accomplice to rape for his role in the 2001 marriage of 14-year-old Elissa Wall to her 19-year-old cousin. Wall, now 21, said Jeffs used his church authority to coerce her into the marriage and sex by threatening her eternal salvation.
Jeffs was sentenced last month to two consecutive prison terms of five years to life and is in the Utah State Prison near Salt Lake City.
Jeffs, 52, took over the FLDS church in 2002 after the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs. The insular southern Utah-based sect practices polygamy in arranged marriages.
Jeffs' lawyers argue during the trial that Jeffs did not arrange Wall's marriage, nor was he ever told the girl was being forced into sex. Jeffs allowed the union to dissolve in 2004 after Wall became pregnant with another man's child. She has left the church and remarried.
The Associated Press does not generally identify people who say they were sexually assaulted, but Wall has repeatedly used her maiden name in public. She and her lawyer have declined to say what name she uses now.
Prosecutors charged her one-time husband, Allen Steed, with rape the day after Jeffs' conviction.
Jeffs is now facing two criminal trials in Arizona on similar charges. His Utah accuser is also an alleged victim in one of the cases. The church leader is also under federal indictment for flight to avoid prosecution.
The FLDS hold plural marriage as a central tenet of their faith, believing it brings glorification in heaven. The church has its roots in early Mormon theology, although the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavows any connection to the sect. The Mormon church abandoned polygamy as a condition of statehood in 1890 and excommunicates members who practice plural marriage.