Polygamist Prophet Update

FLDS leader Jeffs asks that rape-as-accomplice trial be moved; in different case, judge orders him to pay up

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is seeking a change of venue for his Utah rape trial.
FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is seeking a change of venue for his Utah rape trial.

Imprisoned polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, leader of the breakaway Mormon sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is asking that his trial on a charge of rape-as-accomplice be moved from Washington County in southern Utah to urban hub Salt Lake City. His lawyers argue that pretrial publicity has prejudiced the jury pool, making it impossible for him to get a fair trial in the decidedly smaller venue.

Jeffs is charged as an accomplice to rape for his role in arranging a marriage in 2001 between a 14-year-old girl, known in court filings as Jane Doe No. 4, and her 19-year-old cousin – and thus tacitly approving their sexual relationship, despite Doe's clear opposition to the union, Utah prosecutors allege. In a motion filed with the court March 6, Jeffs' lawyers report hiring a Utah pollster to survey 200 residents in Washington and Iron counties and in Salt Lake County, to find out their attitudes toward the prophet. According to the lawyers, residents in the two southern counties expressed "demonstrable prejudice" toward Jeffs – indeed, in Washington Co. 52% of residents polled said Jeffs was definitely guilty, even though the pollsters hadn't specified a crime in their questioning. Alternately, Jeffs' lawyers are asking that the court dismiss the entire case against the polygamist preacher; they say the rape-as-accomplice charge is "unconstitutionally vague," reports Deseret Morning News, and that Jeffs' position as leader of the FLDS alone "does not provide sufficient probable cause to infer that he was on notice" that Doe had "expressed a lack of consent to sexual intercourse" through her "words and actions."

While Jeffs' legal maneuverings in Utah are unlikely to catch any traction, a similar case against him in Arizona – where he's facing prosecution on a rape conspiracy charge, also for his role in arranging polygamist marriages between young girls and older, married men – could be in jeopardy. On March 1, Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith dropped a similar case against 33-year-old Randy Barlow, one of eight FLDS men charged with polygamy, after his former child bride, Candi Shapley, refused to testify against him. Although she told the court she was prepared to go to jail for contempt, Smith decided instead to dismiss the case, saying he didn't want to revictimize her by locking her up. Shapley's marriage to Barlow when she was just 16 was arranged by Jeffs, and Shapley would eventually be an important witness in Arizona's case against him. But Smith says that Shapley faced "tremendous pressure" from her family, who are still members of the FLDS, and others in the church to stay quiet. Reportedly, Shapley's father was expelled from the church and later reinstated, a move prosecutors say was designed to control her testimony. The daily also reported that Shapley's house was burglarized after she was named as a witness – in all, Shapley says, she just wants to go back to living a "quiet life."

Nonetheless, even if the state charges fail, Jeffs will face a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, indicted by a federal grand jury last week in connection with the months Jeffs spent on the lam last year, traveling from state to state to evade arrest on the Utah and Arizona rape-related charges. The federal charge carries a possible punishment of five years in the federal slammer and a $250,000 fine. Jeffs was finally picked up outside Las Vegas last summer, after the Cadillac Escalade he was riding in was pulled over by a state trooper on a routine traffic stop. Prior to his arrest, there were random reports of possible Jeffs sightings across the country, but he had not been seen publicly since early 2004 when author Jon Krakauer snapped a picture of him at the FLDS' gated Yearning for Zion ranch outside the West Texas town of Eldorado, consecrating the site where the church's first-ever temple now stands. (For more on Jeffs and the FLDS spread in Eldorado, see "Meet the New Neighbors," July 29, 2005.)

And finally, on March 2, a Utah state judge ordered Jeffs and other FLDS leaders to pay an $8.8 million judgment to the FLDS' United Effort Plan Trust, designed to hold the wealth of all FLDS members. The trust was taken over, and the state appointed a special fiduciary to review its assets after evidence suggested Jeffs and his cronies were raiding its assets. The FLDS leaders who are named trustees failed to respond to a lawsuit filed by court-appointed fiduciary Bruce Wisan, the Deseret Morning News reports, prompting the court to enter the multimillion-dollar judgment. Whether Wisan will be able to collect the funds and restore the trust is unknown: Shortly after Wisan took over, entire buildings, along with farm equipment and other tangible assets, began disappearing from the FLDS stronghold known as Short Creek, twin towns straddling the Arizona-Utah border. The UEP is land-rich, with about $110 million in assets, but cash-poor – indeed, most of the cash has reportedly disappeared, as have the UEP trustees.

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