Would-be prophet of polygamous sect signs letter condemning Jeffs

The Salt Lake Tribune/August 18, 2011

After polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs’ conviction on child rape charges, a challenger to Jeffs’ leadership is denouncing his “perverted, immoral behavior” and those who continue to support him.

William Edson Jessop is making his case to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and last week signed an open letter to the FLDS and its de facto leader, Warren Jeffs’ brother, Lyle Jeffs.

Jessop’s letter is dated Aug. 10, the day after Jeffs, 55, was sentenced to life in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he took as plural wives. The trial exposed years of Jeffs’ misdeeds, including marriages to several underage girls, “training” some of his 78 wives to have group sex with him and having sex in the FLDS temple’s baptismal font.

But most members of the FLDS have not been aware of the evidence because of a ban on Internet usage, and their leaders say Warren Jeffs is a “martyr,” according to former members. The letter, stuffed into post office boxes at the Colorado City, Ariz., post office, addresses that lack of information, and implies that the FLDS people’s continued support of Jeffs is “bringing on the wrath of God.”

“This is a warning, as a brother and a friend,” reads the letter. “No one has the right to cover up immoral conduct.”

William E. Jessop was once Jeffs’ handpicked high-ranking bishop of the FLDS home base of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale. In 2007 Jeffs made several phone calls from a Utah jail renouncing his own role as leader and naming Jessop as the true prophet. But he later recanted, and Jessop went into hiding for four years.

In March, Jessop re-emerged to file paperwork with the Utah Division of Corporations seeking to take back control of the FLDS corporate entity from Warren Jeffs based on those 2007 jailhouse conversations. The head of the Corporation of the President is typically the FLDS president.

FLDS leaders fired back, saying Jeffs is the rightful leader, and a flurry of paperwork ensued. But on Aug. 3, Jessop let the latest deadline in the struggle pass without a response and leadership stayed with Jeffs.

“The same position that Mister Jessop took previously, he still takes. ... Obviously what counts is the support of the people,” said Jessop’s Salt Lake City attorney, Mark James. “We’ve always viewed that deadline as not particularly meaningful.”

In the meantime, Jessop has been shoring up some support with church members. He is holding Sunday church meetings in Hildale, and is attracting more than 200 people. There are about 10,000 members of the FLDS.

The letter is signed by both William E. Jessop and Willie R. Jessop, the one-time spokesman for the FLDS church who has since come out against Warren Jeffs.

It marks the first time the former spokesman has publicly denounced Jeffs to the FLDS people. Willie R. Jessop said Thursday the letter has had an effect within the sect.

“It definitely has struck a hard nerve with everyone who has read it,” he said. “There’s a lot of other people that are starting to realize there’s no future.”

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