FLDS member appeals rejected

San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas/February 24, 2012

San Angelo, Texas -- A Texas appellate court upheld the convictions of a polygamist sect member who pleaded no contest to sexual assault of a child and bigamy.

The Texas Third Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed the convictions of Lehi Barlow Jeffs, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Jeffs pleaded no contest on April 15, 2010, to charges of bigamy and sexual assault of a child, and he received an eight-year prison sentence on each charge, being served concurrently.

Jeffs lodged his appeal in May 2010.

Jeffs, 32, was "spiritually married" to a girl when she was 15 years old in 2005, and he had a child by her. The assault itself — based on the date of birth of her child — was alleged to have occurred on Sept. 18, 2006, the prosecution has said.

The FLDS sanctions "spiritual" or "celestial" marriages that allow a man to be married to more than one woman.

The charges against Jeffs came as a result of a raid on the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch in April 2008, after law enforcement investigated allegations of sexual assault. Ten men have been convicted as an outcome of the raid on charges including bigamy, sexual assault of a child and performing an illegal marriage ceremony.

The justices' opinion recounts the events of the raid, and that the call that led to the raid was later discovered to be a hoax call. Still, law enforcement did "observe evidence — several beds in the temple and marriage records — tending to confirm the girls' descriptions of underage sexual activity and bigamy," the opinion states.

The court addressed what the defense called 25 "points of error," variously grouped around arguments that evidence should have been suppressed because of allegedly bad warrants and indictments should have been quashed because of an allegedly bad grand jury selection process.

The opinion stated that Jeffs didn't have legal standing to challenge Department of Family Services interviews resulting from the warrants. It said information in the first April 3, 2008, warrant to look for the woman claiming abuse was enough for the second April 6, 2008, warrant to search for evidence of sexual assault generally, so the evidence gathered from them was valid.

The opinion said there weren't significant omissions from a probable cause affidavit, thus validating the second warrant. It said there was no violation of religious freedom. And it said a grand jury had been properly selected.

The decision on bigamy referenced the arguments in the sexual assault decision as a companion piece.

"The issues raised and the arguments raised are identical in both causes," the opinion on the bigamy charge states.

Jeffs is serving his sentence at the Diboll Unit of the Texas prison system, working as a janitor, said Michelle Lyons, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman.

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