Prophet Fires Attorney...Again

A strategy to avoid July trial?

Prophet Fires Attorney...Again

With a little more than two weeks until the expected start of his trial on sexual assault charges, Warren Jeffs, the polygamist prophet of the Mormon breakaway sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has again fired the lead attorney hired to represent him.

Jeffs' trial, on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child (which could net him a life sentence) and sexual assault of a child (punishable by up to 20 years in the pen), has canned well-known North Texas attorney Jeff Kearney who he hired in late January – a move that prompted Judge Barbara Walther to postpone Jeffs' trial date from mid-February to July 25 in San Angelo. Now, with that date imminent, Jeffs on July 6 had a representative inform Kearney by phone that he too would be terminated. Jeffs has apparently retained Houston attorney Emily Munoz Detoto to take over, reports the Houston Chronicle. (Jeffs is also facing a charge of bigamy, and was slated to be tried separately on that charge in October.)

The case against Jeffs stems from evidence that the state obtained from the infamous raid of the FLDS' Texas compound, the Yearning for Zion ranch, outside Eldorado – including that the 55-year-old head of the polygamist church had wed a young woman at the ranch. (You can find a picture of Jeffs and alleged child bride here.) The raid, however, was questionable and based on an anonymous phone call to a child protection officals from a woman who said she was a 16-year-old multiple wife – a so-called spiritual wife – at the compound. The phone call, however, was a hoax. Although Texas authorities removed from the ranch hundreds of children, the courts later said law enforcers had overstepped their authority.

Meanwhile, with Kearney as his attorney, Jeffs sought to have Walther recused from hearing his case this summer; her attitude during previous trials of other FLDS men charged in the wake of the raid demonstrated that she was biased against them, he has argued. That request was denied last month, but reportedly Detoto will ask for a re-hearing on the matter. As such it is currently unclear what effect the attorney shake-up – the third since Jeffs was extradited to Texas from Utah (where he was tried and convicted on a charge of rape-as-accomplice – for his role in arranging a spiritual marriage between a girl and her cousin – a conviction that was ultimately overturned) – will have on the trial schedule, but it does raise the question of whether Jeffs' game of musical attorneys is meant to avoid the inevitable.

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