Utah governor signs warrant to send polygamous leader Jeffs to Texas to face criminal charges
SALT LAKE CITY – Polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs won't face a retrial in his Utah accomplice rape case until his criminal charges in Texas are resolved, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Wednesday.
The Utah Supreme Court last month overturned Jeffs' 2007 convictions on accomplice rape charges. The court said faulty jury instructions denied Jeffs a fair trial, and the justices sent the case back for retrial.
After talking with Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap and Texas authorities, Shurtleff said all sides agreed to let Texas step in.
"The plan is we all want him tried there first," Shurtleff told The Associated Press. "Then if it looks like we need to try him up here, we'll bring him back."
Jeffs, 54, is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints, a southern Utah-based church that practices polygamy in marriages arranged by church leaders. Historically, some marriages have involved underage girls, although church leaders say the practice has stopped.
Texas authorities have charged Jeffs with bigamy, aggravated sexual assault and assault based on alleged incidents with underage girls at a church ranch near Eldorado, Texas. The information that led to the charges was gleaned from church and family records seized during a raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch in 2008.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent Herbert a letter July 29 demanding that Jeffs be arrested and turned over to Texas authorities.
Jeffs' Utah attorneys, Walter Bugden and Tara Isaacson, have said they would fight extradition. In June, Jeffs refused to sign a warrant for his extradition brought to him at the Utah State Prison, where he remained Wednesday.
"He can still fight it, but it's pretty much a done deal," Shurtleff said.
Shurtleff said he believes Texas authorities have strong cases and a good likelihood of success because Jeffs is directly accused in the crimes.
In Utah, Jeffs was charged as an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old follower to her 19-year-old cousin.
Jeffs performed the couple's religious marriage ceremony and later counseled the young bride to give herself "mind, body and soul" to her husband to try and make an unhappy marriage work.
During the trial, the bride, now an adult, said she objected to the marriage and was forced into sexual relations with her husband.
A jury convicted Jeffs on both counts and a 5th District Judge sentenced him to consecutive terms of five years to life in prison.
In its reversal of the convictions, Utah's Supreme Court was critical of how state prosecutors applied accomplice liability law and said Jeffs' actions could not be equated with those of the woman's husband.
Shurtleff said his office plans to ask justices to rehear the appeal of the case.