KINGMAN, Ariz. – An Arizona judge dropped four of eight charges against Warren Jeffs, even as authorities in Texas looked into whether the polygamist sect leader had relationships with four girls at the west Texas ranch raided in April.
Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steven Conn dismissed the charges at the request of the defense, finding that a state incest law does not apply to the arranged marriages of two teenage girls and their older male relatives.
Conn ruled the law only applies if both participants in the sexual activity are older than 18, and that the law does not apply to half cousins.
In both of the marriages Jeffs is accused of arranging, the girls were under 18 and were their husbands' half cousins. He was charged with incest as an accomplice.
Prosecutors said the law could lead to absurd results, such as an uncle having sex with two nieces, one younger and one older than 18, and being subject to harsher punishments for his conduct with the older one.
But the judge said the statute's language was clear and unambiguous, leaving no room for interpretation.
"We're obviously very pleased with the court's ruling," Jeffs' attorney, Mike Piccarreta, told The Associated Press. "You can see we've chopped these things down considerably."
In his ruling, Conn wrote that Arizona's incest law initially was enacted without reference to participants' ages. In 1985, it was amended to apply only to people who were 15 years or older, and in 1998, it was changed to its present form, applying only to those 18 or older.
Conn also wrote that because the incest law specifically mentions half brothers and sisters, it arguably excludes all other relationships of the half blood by not mentioning them.
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, the prosecutor in the Arizona case against Jeffs, did not return a call or e-mail request for comment Wednesday evening.
If convicted of all charges, Jeffs could face anywhere from probation to eight years in prison. Before the incest charges were dropped Wednesday and two others were dropped in March, Jeffs faced up to 27 years in prison.
Jeffs, who was already prosecuted in Utah, is still charged in Arizona as an accomplice with four counts of sexual conduct with a minor stemming from the marriages of the two girls.
Last week, investigators at the Texas attorney general's office took DNA from Jeffs, saying they were looking for evidence of relationships between him and four girls from the Yearning For Zion Ranch ages 12 to 15.
All 440 children seized from the ranch April 3 were returned to parents by Wednesday, Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.
Jeffs, 52, was named president, or prophet, of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 2002. Members of the church live in the twin border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
Jeffs was convicted last year in Utah of rape as an accomplice in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He was sentenced to two terms of five years to life in prison.
Jeffs remains jailed in Kingman as he awaits his Arizona trial. No date has been set.