HOUSTON – The condition of convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was upgraded from critical to serious following his move Tuesday to a Texas prison hospital for additional treatment after he became sick while fasting, a state corrections official said.
Jeffs was described by Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons as "awake and alert" as he was flown 215 miles from the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler, where he was admitted Sunday, to the Texas prison hospital at Galveston.
Jeffs, 55, last week was assigned to the Powledge Unit, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas, to serve his life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls. On Sunday, he told corrections officers he'd been fasting since his conviction and was ill. He then was taken to the Tyler hospital, about 45 miles from his prison.
"Whenever possible, we send inmates needing medical attention to Hospital Galveston because it is a secure prison facility," Lyons said.
The prison hospital shares quarters with the University of Texas Medical Branch, the Texas prison system's chief medical provider.
"This is opposed to conditions at a `free world' hospital where we must station correctional officers as security," she said. "Basically, once he was stabilized at East Texas Medical Center, we then were able to transport him to a more secure setting where he still will have access to hospital care."
There was no estimate on how long he would remain at the Galveston hospital but Lyons said the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was expected to make a full recovery. It also was not immediately clear how long Jeffs had gone without food before being hospitalized.
An official familiar with Jeffs' condition but not authorized to discuss it publicly said Monday Jeffs had been in a medically induced coma. Lyons Tuesday disagreed with that description, but said federal regulations covering release of medical information prohibited her from disclosing more.
Jeffs was convicted this month after prosecutors used DNA evidence to show he fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl -- one of 24 underage girls whom prosecutors say he took as his spiritual wives.
He received a life sentence, plus another 20-year term, and isn't eligible for parole until he is at least 100 years old. He had been in a Huntsville prison immediately after his trial, then was moved last week to the Powledge Unit.
This isn't the first time Jeffs has required hospitalization in the years since he first was locked up.
He tried to hang himself in January 2007 while awaiting trial on rape charges in Washington County, Utah, according to court documents. He also threw himself against the walls of his cell and banged his head, although he later told a mental health expert he really wasn't trying to kill himself. In the same time period, he was hospitalized for dehydration and depression.
In 2009, he was temporarily force-fed while in an Arizona jail.
Former church members have said Jeffs likely would continue to lead his Utah-based church from inside prison and that his followers likely still revere him as a prophet despite the considerable evidence at his trial showing he sexually assaulted girls as young as 12. Prosecutors played an audio recording at his trial of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old.
The basic principles of Jeffs' fundamentalist sect are rooted in polygamy, a legacy of early Mormon church teachings that held plural marriage brought exaltation in heaven. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the mainstream Mormon church, abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah's statehood and excommunicates members who engage in the practice.