ST. GEORGE, Utah – A majority of 100 prospective jurors were dismissed Monday as a judge began the slow process of interviewing people in the trial of a polygamous-sect leader charged with being an accomplice to rape.
Fifth District Judge James Shumate scratched at least 69 people, based on their answers to a questionnaire or for family or medical reasons.
More than 200 people filled out a questionnaire Friday, the first step in the selection process. The interviews were closed to the public, although news reporters took turns watching in Shumate's chambers Monday.
The judge, however, prohibited the news media from reporting the nature of the questions or the responses. More prospective jurors were expected to be interviewed Tuesday.
Warren Jeffs, 51, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice.
A woman says she was 14 in 2001 when Jeffs encouraged her 19-year-old cousin to have sex with her against her will after the young couple's spiritual marriage in a Nevada motel.
The trial is set for Wednesday here in southwestern Utah. Shumate has said he'll postpone it and move the trial 300 miles north to Salt Lake City if he can't find an impartial jury.
The judge needs eight jurors and four alternates.
The questionnaire last week asked people if they had seen or heard much about the case in the news media. The judge also wanted to know about religion and whether anyone had experience with polygamists or had ties to the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Plural marriage is a central tenet of Jeffs' FLDS faith, although it is not an issue in this case. Mormons once practiced polygamy but abandoned it as a condition of statehood in 1890.
The FLDS church believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. Members live about 50 miles east of St. George in the border communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
If convicted, Jeffs faces a possible penalty of up to life in prison. He also faces charges in Arizona.