Judge dismisses Ariz. charges against Warren Jeffs

Associated Press/June 9, 2010

Flagstaff, Arizona - A Mohave County judge on Wednesday dismissed all Arizona charges against polygamist leader Warren Jeffs after a prosecutor said continuing with the charges would be "impractical."

Judge Steven Conn granted Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith's motion to dismiss the four charges of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor. The charges stemmed from two arranged marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives. They were dismissed with prejudice, meaning they cannot be refiled on the same set of facts

Smith said the two alleged victims in the cases no longer want to proceed with prosecution in Arizona.

In his motion filed earlier Wednesday, he said Jeffs has already served more time in Arizona than he would receive upon conviction, more serious charges are pending against Jeffs in Texas, and Jeffs has had significant medical problems while jailed in Kingman, Ariz., about 200 miles northwest of Phoenix.

"It would be impractical and unnecessary to spend taxpayer money on this defendant under all the above mentioned circumstances," Smith wrote.

Jeffs' attorney, Mike Picarretta, said he appreciates Smith "fulfilling his ethical duties and dismissing all remaining prosecutions" against Jeffs.

The court ordered the sheriff's office to transport the 54-year-old Jeffs back to Utah, where his 2007 convictions on two counts of rape as an accomplice are on appeal to the state Supreme Court. Jeffs was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison on the charges, which involved Jeffs' role in the 2001 spiritual marriage of an underage follower to her then-19-year-old cousin.

Smith noted that Texas has started extradition proceedings, but Conn said Arizona had only temporary custody of Jeffs until the charges against him were resolved. Any such proceeding must be initiated with Utah, not Arizona, Conn said.

Jeffs, the former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was moved to Kingman from the Utah State Prison in February 2008. The first of his Arizona trials had been scheduled to begin Nov. 2, with the second trial to be considered at its conclusion.

Jeffs' troubles extended into Texas when he was indicted on charges of sexual assault of a child and bigamy, months after authorities raided the FLDS' Yearning for Zion ranch at Eldorado in April 2008.

The former fugitive once on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list was arrested in August 2006 during a traffic stop near Las Vegas.

FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said he's relieved the Arizona charges were dismissed. But he said he's also disappointed that allegations that false testimony may have been provided during Jeffs' 2007 criminal trial in Utah won't be addressed in an Arizona court.

The allegations became public in March in Arizona court documents filed by Jeffs' attorneys. They alleged that papers used by a Canadian midwife to document her medical care of Elissa Wall following a miscarriage in 2002 may have been re-created records, not originals as represented during the Utah trial. A prosecutor in Utah's Washington County launched an investigation into the allegations.

Wall's 2001 spiritual marriage was the basis for Jeffs' criminal conviction in Utah and was also the basis for one of the Arizona cases.

"I'm still hopeful that this will all come out and that there will be a full investigation," Jessop said.

Picarretta also has pressed for a Salt Lake City law firm to disclose any money it has paid to one or more state witnesses in the Arizona cases.

"I'm hopeful that in Utah, just like in Arizona, a decision will be made that this case cannot be prosecuted," he said. "There are too many irregularities, and if it wasn't Mr. Jeffs, this case would have been gone years ago."

The FLDS tie their religious roots to the early teachings of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and practice polygamy in arranged marriages. The Mormon church renounced plural marriages in 1890 as part of Utah's push for statehood. Self-described Mormon fundamentalists such as the FLDS believe polygamy will bring glorification in heaven.

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