Polygamist Prophet Back in Court ... Again

Warren Jeffs faces prosecution in Arizona

Our favorite polygamist prophet, Warren Jeffs, imprisoned leader of the Mormon breakaway sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was back in court last week – this time in Arizona, where he faces prosecution on multiple counts of incest and sexual conduct with a minor and a single charge of conspiracy to commit sexual misconduct with a minor, related to allegations that he arranged and presided over polygamist marriages between underage girls and their older, married male relatives.

Jeffs was convicted last year in Utah on two counts of rape-as-accomplice and handed two consecutive terms of five years to life. If convicted in Arizona, Jeffs must first finish his Utah terms before moving to a cell in Arizona. "Now it's our turn," Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told the Associated Press. "I hope the message is very simple: The law applies to everybody, whether they're the head of a large religious group, or somebody who's not. It's a crime to abuse children, and there are no exceptions."

At issue is the practice of multiple marriage, or, in FLDS parlance, "celestial marriage." FLDS adherents believe that in order for a man to be exalted to heaven, he must have at least three wives – and FLDS women must submit to the practice if they hope to hitch a ride heavenward.

The Arizona charges stem from a series of five polygamous marriages Jeffs arranged, but several charges relating to two of those marriages have already been tossed from court: One case was eliminated because the victim was involved in an alleged scheme to blackmail another defendant; a second case was scrapped because Mohave Co. officials could not prove the offense happened in the county. A third case is also in flux because it's unclear the victim will cooperate, reports The Vancouver Sun. Reportedly, the remaining cases are strong – indeed, one involves former FLDS member Elissa Wall, who was the star witness against Jeffs at his Utah trial. (For more on the FLDS, and on their Texas compound, see "Meet the New Neighbors," July 29, 2005.) Jeffs' Arizona attorney, Mike Piccarreta, entered on Feb. 27 a not guilty plea on each charge for his client and asked Superior Court Judge Steven Conn to move the trial out of Mohave Co., an FLDS stronghold near the Utah border. The "massive amount of media coverage" in the case would make it difficult to secure an impartial jury, Piccarreta told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Meanwhile, it appears Jeffs isn't faring too well in prison: He's been in the Utah facility's infirmary since Feb. 19, after he began fasting in order to firm up his "spiritual strength," his Utah attorney, Walter Bugden, told the Trib. Jeffs is malnourished and dehydrated, Bugden said, and to boot, all the praying hasn't been kind to the prophet's knees, which Bugden says are now "bloody with oozing sores."

Jeffs will remain in the Mohave Co. lockup until March 19, when he's scheduled to return to court for a pretrial hearing.

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Warren Jeffs, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Terry Goddard, Elissa Wall, Mike Piccarreta

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