The Austin Chronicle

Jeffs Headed Back to Texas?

By Jordan Smith, November 16, 2010, 6:25am, Newsdesk

Although a Utah judge yesterday signed off on papers that clear the way for imprisoned polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs to be brought to Texas to stand trial, it might be a while until we find out if and when that extradition will take place.

Jeffs, the leader of the Mormon breakaway sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is facing several felony charges here, including sexual assault and bigamy, in connection with information gathered after the disastrous 2008 raid on the FLDS compound in West Texas, the Yearning for Zion ranch.

Jeffs was already in prison in Utah, convicted on charges of rape-as-accomplice, for his role in arranging and carrying out a marriage between a 14-year-old female member of his congregation and her older, adult cousin. Those charges were tossed out this summer by the Utah Supreme Court, which opined that the trial court failed to tell jurors that in order to convict Jeffs, they must also find that he knew when performing the marriage that it would lead to a forcible consummation of the union. The high court pitched the case back to the trial level, where prosecutors will have a second go at the case if they so choose.

Of course they haven't yet chosen to do so (and it appears there may be other, more troubling problems with their case than just failing to offer an instruction to jurors), and therein lies Jeffs' latest move, to appeal the extradition signed off on yesterday by Judge Terry Christiansen. According to Jeffs, extraditing him to Texas now would violate his right to a speedy trial on the Utah charges. In court papers filed this fall, Jeffs' lawyers argue that allowing the extradition to Texas now is just a way to allow Utah to punt the case "as an offensive line to protect its weakened prosecution, buying time until it can figure out what to do next in its now frantic effort to defeat Mr. Jeffs and the unpopular religion he represents."

A Utah appeals court has halted the extradition for the time being and has ordered the state to respond to Jeffs' appeal by tomorrow, Nov. 17, at 5pm (4pm CST).

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