Warren Jeffs

Convicted polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, shown in November 2010 on the left and July 2011 on the right, is in a medically-induced coma. After being convicted to a life sentence for underage sexual assault, Jeffs refused to eat.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

HOUSTON — Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was hospitalized Monday in a medically induced coma in critical condition after fasting in the weeks since receiving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage followers he took as spiritual brides, officials said.

The 55-year-old head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was expected to survive, an official familiar with Jeffs’ medical condition told The Associated Press. It was not clear how long Jeffs — who has a history of refusing to eat while incarcerated — would remain in the coma or how long he would be hospitalized, the official said.

The official requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the information publicly.
Doctors were not specific about why Jeffs was put into the coma.

Jeffs’ attorney Emily Detoto said her client “hasn’t been feeling well” and was taken to East Texas Medical Center in Tyler on Sunday night. She declined to elaborate.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said Jeffs was in critical condition, but Lyons would not give specific details about his status. Lyons said Jeffs told corrections officers he’s fasted in the time since his conviction earlier this month, though it was not immediately clear how long he’d gone without food before being hospitalized.

During Jeffs’ trial, prosecutors used DNA evidence to show he fathered a child with a 15-year-old and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old. Both were among 24 underage wives whom prosecutors said Jeffs collected.

Court documents show Jeffs tried to hang himself in January 2007 while awaiting trial on rape charges in Washington County, Utah. He also threw himself against the walls of his cell and banged his head, although he later told a mental health expert he really wasn’t trying to kill himself.

During a visit with a brother that same month that was videotaped by jail officials, Jeffs said he’d been fasting for three days and remained awake during the night. Days later, he was taken to a hospital and given medication for depression. The court documents said he’d lost 30 pounds, was dehydrated and suffering from sleep deprivation.

Jeffs also had to be temporarily force-fed in 2009 while in the Kingman, Ariz., jail.

In Texas, Jeffs has been in protective custody, which is among the most restrictive forms of imprisonment in the state. He was to be alone in his cell daily, not be involved in any work programs and to be out of his cell only to shower and for recreation by himself.

Jeffs is among only 85 inmates in the 156,000-prisoner Texas corrections system to be assigned protective custody.

The life sentence was the harshest possible for Jeffs’ convictions, and he isn’t eligible for parole until he is at least 100 years old. He had been in a Huntsville prison immediately after his trial, then was moved last week to the Powledge Unit outside Palestine, Texas.

Former church members have said Jeffs likely would continue to lead his Utah-based church from inside prison and that his followers likely still revere him as a prophet despite the considerable evidence presented at his trial showing he sexually assaulted girls as young as 12.

The basic principles of Jeffs’ fundamentalist sect are rooted in polygamy, a legacy of early Mormon church teachings that held plural marriage brought exaltation in heaven. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the mainstream Mormon church, abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s statehood and excommunicates members who engage in the practice.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

HOUSTON — Convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was moved Tuesday to his new permanent home, an East Texas prison, to begin serving his life sentence for sexually assaulting one of his child brides at a West Texas compound built and occupied by members of his Mormon fundamentalist church.

 

Jeffs, 55, was taken from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Byrd Unit in Huntsville, where new inmates undergo physical and mental examinations, to the Powledge Unit outside Palestine, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas. He was taken to the Huntsville prison two weeks ago after a San Angelo jury decided he should spend life in prison for sexual assault. His victim was among 24 underage wives who prosecutors said Jeffs collected.

 

He also received the maximum 20-year punishment on a separate child sex conviction.

 

The punishment was the harshest possible. The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints isn’t eligible for parole until he is at least 100 years old.

 

Prison agency spokesman Jason Clark said Jeffs will be in protective custody, which is among the most restrictive forms of imprisonment in Texas. He’ll be alone in his cell daily, not be involved in any work programs and be out of the cell only for recreation alone and to shower.

 

Jeffs, now Texas inmate No. 01726705, is among only 85 inmates in the 156,000-prisoner Texas corrections system to be assigned protective custody, “the ultimate protection to offenders,” Clark said. Protective custody inmates are normally isolated because of serious, direct or proven threats to their safety.

 

On weekends, Jeffs will be allowed to see visitors from a list of 10 people.

 

“He will have contact visits but not with anyone under the age of 17,” Clark said. The age limit is a provision of his status as a convicted sex offender.

 

He’ll also be allowed to make phone calls to those on his visitors’ list who have registered with the Texas prison phone system provider. His calls, however, are limited to 15 minutes and he can’t exceed 240 minutes a month. The calls are recorded.

 

Clark said Jeffs’ protective custody status will be reviewed every six months by a classification committee.

 

Former church members have said Jeffs likely would continue to lead his Utah-based church from inside the Powledge Unit and that his followers likely still revere him as a prophet despite the considerable evidence presented at his trial showing that he apparently had sex with girls as young as 12.

 

During his trial, prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with the 15-year-old and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting the 12-year-old.

 

The basic principles of Jeffs’ FLDS are rooted in polygamy, a legacy of early Mormon church teachings that held plural marriage brought exaltation in heaven. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the mainstream Mormon church, abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s statehood and excommunicates members who engage in the practice.

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Texas polygamist convicted of sexual assault.

Warren Jeffs is taken into the side entrance of the Tom Green County Courthouse. (San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church deemed "spiritual marriages."

The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stood quietly as the decision of the Texas jury was read. He received the maximum sentence on both counts.

Prosecutors had asked the jury for the life sentence after presenting their painstaking and sometimes graphic case, and rejected Jeffs' contention that he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs.

"The evidence in this case shows that this isn't a prosecution of a people," Prosecutor Eric Nichols said in his closing argument. "This is a prosecution to protect people."

During the trial, prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old.

The 55-year-old Jeffs, who had insisted on acting as his own attorney during the earlier part of the trial, was convicted Thursday,

He asked to be excused under protest during the sentencing phase, which ended Tuesday with him refusing to answer when the judge asked if he wanted to make a closing statement. A defense attorney told the judge Jeffs had instructed his attorneys not to speak for him.

Jurors deliberated less than half an hour.

During the trial, prosecutors played other tapes in which Jeffs was heard instructing as many as a dozen of his young wives on how to please him sexually — and thus, he told them, please God.

"If the world knew what I was doing, they would hang me from the highest tree," Jeffs wrote in 2005, according to one of thousands of pages of notes seized along with the audio recordings from his Texas ranch.

Nichols referred to that in his closing.

"No, Mr. Jeffs, unlike what you wrote in your priesthood records ... we don't hang convicts anymore from the highest tree. Not even child molesters," Nichols said.

Jeffs claimed his religious rights were being violated. Representing himself after burning through seven high-powered attorneys, he routinely interrupted the proceedings and chose to stand silently in front of jurors for nearly half an hour during his closing arguments. He called just one defense witness, a church elder who read from Mormon scripture.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven, has more than 10,000 followers who consider Jeffs to be God's spokesman on Earth.

He spent years evading arrest — crisscrossing the country as a fugitive who eventually made the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list before his capture in 2006, said lead prosecutor Eric Nichols.

Several former members of the church have testified that Jeffs ruled the group with a heavy and abusive hand. Jeffs also allegedly excommunicated 60 church members he saw as a threat to his leadership, breaking up 300 families while stripping them of property and "reassigning" wives and children.

In an audiotape played during the sentencing phase, Jeffs was heard softly telling five young girls to "set aside all your inhibitions" as he gave them instructions on how to please him sexually. Jeffs is heard telling the girls that what "the five of you are about to do is important."

Prosecutors suggested that the polygamist leader told the girls they needed to have sex with him — in what Jeffs called "heavenly" or "celestial" sessions — in order to atone for sins in his community. Several times in his journals, Jeffs wrote of God telling him to take more and more young girls as brides "who can be worked with and easily taught."

FBI agent John Broadway testified that fathers who gave their young daughters to Jeffs were rewarded with young brides of their own. Girls who proved reluctant to have sex with Jeffs were sent away, according to excerpts from Jeffs' journals that prosecutors showed to the jury.

Police raided the group's remote West Texas ranch in April 2008, finding women dressed in frontier-style dresses and hairdos from the 19th century as well as seeing underage girls who were clearly pregnant. The call to an abuse hotline that spurred the raid turned out to be a hoax, and more than 400 children who had been placed in protective custody were eventually returned to their families.

Jeffs is the eighth FLDS man convicted since the raid on Yearning For Zion, in the town of Eldorado, 45 miles south of San Angelo. Previous sentences ranged from six to 75 years in prison.

The church's traditional headquarters is along the Utah-Arizona border, but it established the Texas compound in 2004. Jeffs once faced criminal charges in Arizona and was convicted of accessory to rape in Utah in 2007. But that was overturned by the state Supreme Court and he was extradited to Texas in December.

Warren Jeffs is taken into the side entrance of the Tom Green County Courthouse on Monday in San Angelo, Texas. Jurors convicted Jeffs last week of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he had taken as brides. He faces up to life in prison. Jeffs has led the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since 2002.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Softly telling five girls to “set aside all your inhibitions,” convicted polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was heard Monday giving his child brides instructions on how to please him sexually during a graphic 10-minute tape played for a Texas jury.

An FBI agent testified that the 2004 audiotape, in which Jeffs is heard breathing heavily, preceded Jeffs having sex at the same time with all the girls, who were 15 and younger. Several jurors squirmed or wiped away tears during the sometimes-scratchy recording.

Jeffs faces life in prison after being convicted by the same jury last week of sexually assaulting two of his “brides,” who were 12 and 15. The sentencing phase of his trial is expected to finish early this week.

Prosecutors showed a page from one of Jeffs’ journals.

“If the world knew what I was doing, they would hang me from the highest tree,” Jeffs wrote in 2005, according to one of thousands of pages of notes seized along with the audio recordings from his Texas ranch.

The 55-year-old is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. More than 10,000 followers consider him God’s spokesman on earth.

Jeffs boycotted his sentencing phase for a third straight day, but made a brief courtroom appearance Monday after being summoned by state District Judge Barbara Walther. She told Jeffs’ attorney, Deric Walpole, that she wanted to make sure Jeffs hadn’t changed his mind.

Wearing a charcoal suit and carrying a blank yellow legal pad, Jeffs walked back into court but never spoke. Walpole said Jeffs wanted to stay outside, and Jeffs was escorted back to another room in the courthouse.

Soon after, prosecutors played the tapes. Jeffs is heard telling the girls that what “the five of you are about to do is important.” The recording ends with him asking the girls if his instructions are detailed enough. The voices of at least two girls responded, “Yes.”

Jeffs kept meticulous records — as jurors found out during the conviction phase of the trial. Last week, they heard a tape of what prosecutors said was Jeffs sexually assaulting the 12-year-old victim.

Prosecutors suggested that the polygamist leader told the girls they needed to have sex with him — in what Jeffs called “heavenly” or “celestial” sessions — in order to atone for sins in his community. Several times in his journals, Jeffs wrote of God telling him to take more and more young girls as brides “who can be worked with and easily taught.”

FBI agent John Broadway testified that fathers who gave their young daughters to Jeffs — their prophet — were rewarded with young brides of their own. Girls who proved reluctant to have sex with Jeffs were sent away, according to excerpts from Jeffs’ journals that prosecutors showed to the jury.

“If they wanted to not be rejected by God, then the new laws [Jeffs] was introducing was requiring them to participate in these sessions,” Broadway said.

The recordings and journals were seized during a 2008 raid on a church ranch in rural West Texas. That raid led to the charges against Jeffs and several of his followers.

Jurors also saw photos of Jeffs that were a contrast to the modest, conservative attire favored by the church he heads. The photos showed him wearing novelty T-shirts and a baseball cap with a Guinness beer logo.

The polygamist leader spent years evading arrest — crisscrossing the country as a fugitive who eventually made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list before his capture in 2006, prosecutors said. A state investigator testified that Jeffs visited 23 states over nearly a year while eluding authorities.

Jeffs also allegedly excommunicated 60 church members he saw as a threat to his leadership, breaking up 300 families while stripping them of property and “reassigning” wives and children.

Walpole, Jeffs’ attorney, has declined to say whether he’ll call witnesses during the sentencing phase. He has indicated that his plea for leniency will focus on Jeffs being a product of his environment and a culture that hasn’t changed for centuries.

Warren Jeffs looks out the back of a Tom Green County Sheriff's Department car Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, after leaving the Tom Green County Courthouse, in San Angelo, Texas. A Texas jury convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs of child sexual assault on Thursday, in a case stemming from two young followers he took as brides in what his church calls "spiritual marriages." (San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SAN ANGELO — The punishment phase in the child sex assault trial of Warren Jeffs has resumed without the polygamist leader in the courtroom.

Jeffs asked Friday to be excused in protest. He didn't want anyone to represent him, but state District Judge Barbara Walther appointed two standby attorneys.

Defense attorney Deric Walpole says he'll "finally get to do my job." He was one of seven lawyers Jeffs fired before deciding to represent himself.

The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was convicted Thursday on two counts of sexual assault of a child.

Jeffs was accused of having sex with underage followers he took as brides in so-called "spiritual marriages." His church believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.

A law enforcement officer, left, escorts polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs, right, into the Tom Green County Courthouse Thursday Aug. 4, 2011, in San Angelo, Texas. The defense rested Thursday in the sexual assault trial against Jeffs in which he served as his own defense.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SAN ANGELO — A Texas jury convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs of child sexual assault Thursday in a case stemming from two young followers he took as brides in what his church calls "spiritual marriages."

The 55-year-old head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stood stone-faced as the verdict was read.

Jeffs, who acted as his own attorney, faces up to life in prison. The jury went immediately into sentencing proceedings. They had deliberated on a verdict for more than three hours.

Prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. They also played audio recordings in which Jeffs was heard instructing young women on how to please him sexually.

Jeffs has claimed he was the victim of religious persecution. The FLDS, which has at least 10,000 members nationwide, is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism. The church believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven and that Jeffs is God's spokesman on earth.

Police had raided the group's remote West Texas ranch in April 2008, finding women dressed in frontier-style dresses and hairdos from the 19th century as well as seeing underage girls who were clearly pregnant. The call to an abuse hotline that spurred the raid turned out to be a hoax, and more than 400 children who had been placed in protective custody were eventually returned to their families.

But authorities brought charges against several men from the group, with Jeffs by far the highest-profile defendant.

Jeffs stood mute and expressionless, staring at the floor, for all but a few seconds of the half hour he was allotted for a closing argument on Thursday. At one point he mumbled, "I am peace," and said no more.

The only noise in the courtroom was the creaking of wooden benches brimming with spectators.

Prosecutors said the case had nothing to do with his church or his beliefs.

"You have heard the defendant make repeated arguments about religious freedoms," said lead prosecutor Eric Nichols. "Make no mistake, this case is not about any people, this case is not about any religion. It is about one individual, Warren Steed Jeffs, and his actions."

Prosecutors relied heavily on information found during the raid on the compound and after a traffic stop in Nevada in 2006, when Jeffs was arrested. Much of the material was discovered in a vault at the end of a secret passageway in the temple and another vault in an annex building.

"You might have asked yourselves," Nichols said, "a lot of people may ask, why would someone record sex? ... This individual considers himself to be the prophet. Everything he did, hour after hour, he was required to keep a record of that."

On one of the tapes played at the trial, Jeffs made a reference to "drawing close" or "being close," which authorities testified is how church members refer to sex. Two female voices said "OK."

"A good wife is trained for her husband and follows the spirit of peace," Jeffs was heard saying.

Another audio tape included Jeffs and the younger girl from a recording made in August 2006 at the Texas compound, according to testimony from Nick Hanna, a Texas Ranger involved in the 2008 raid.

Played in court, it was difficult to decipher, but Jeffs' and a female voice are heard. He says, "I perform this service in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen," then mentions the alleged victim by name. When she says something, he responds, "don't talk while praying." Several minutes of heavy breathing followed.

The jury wore headphones to better hear the recording and also followed a transcript. One female juror covered her face with her hand as she listened.

Jeffs represented himself after firing seven attorneys in the six months leading to the trial. He broke his courtroom silence with an objection marked by a nearly hourlong speech defending polygamy, and twice threatened the judge and the court with warnings of punishment from God.

He refused to cross-examine the state's witnesses, and delayed giving an opening statement until he began presenting his own defense. In that statement, he evoked images of the civil rights movement and mentioned former Mormon leader Joseph Smith Jr. He also asked the jury to remember constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.

The lone defense witness Jeffs called, church elder JD Roundy, spent about 10 minutes on the stand Thursday discussing FLDS history after 4½ hours of testimony Wednesday evening.

Jeffs failed three times to remove state District Judge Barbara Walther from the case, the last rejection coming even without a hearing. He claimed Walther was biased because she issued the warrant for the original raid and was frequently updated as it progressed.

Eleven other FLDS men were charged with crimes including sexual assault and bigamy. All seven of those who have been prosecuted were convicted, receiving prison sentences of between six and 75 years.

Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is placed in a Tom Green County Sheriff’s Department car after a suppression hearing Wednesday, July 27, 2011 in San Angelo, Texas. A judge dealt a blow to the defense of polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs, refusing to suppress evidence police seized during a 2008 raid on his sect’s West Texas compound.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SAN ANGELO — A judge on Wednesday dealt a blow to the defense of polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs, refusing to suppress evidence police seized during a 2008 raid on his sect’s West Texas compound.

District Judge Barbara Walther’s decision means a small mountain of documents — including marriage and birth records — can be presented to the jury during Jeffs’ trial.

It also means opening statements in the case are set for Thursday morning, after one more suppression hearing.
This time, Jeffs’ attorneys are asking that evidence seized during the 2006 traffic stop in Nevada when Jeffs was arrested also be suppressed. Walther said she would hear arguments on that for about an hour, then told both sides to be ready with opening statements.

Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, faces two counts of sexual assault of a child. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of up to 119 years to life in prison.

The April 2008 raid on the FLDS ranch outside of tiny Eldorado, Texas, made headlines nationwide. Walther signed the search warrant that prompted it.

The raid was based on a call to a domestic abuse shelter that turned out to be a hoax, however. Jeffs’ attorneys had argued that police had suspicions information provided by the caller was spurious, and yet didn’t mention them to Walther to ensure she’d approve the warrant.

After about an hour hearing, an additional 30 minutes of deliberating, Walther turned down the defense request.

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: Judge approves evidence in polygamist's case