Jeffs hires Las Vegas attorney, is transferred to Utah

Associated Press/September 6, 2006
By Jennifer Dobner

Hurrican, Utah -- Polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs has hired a lawyer to defend him against felony sex charges involving an arranged marriage between an underage girl and an older man that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Las Vegas attorney Richard Wright contacted jail officials Tuesday, asking that Jeffs be held apart from other inmates "for his own protection," Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said at a news conference.

Jeffs, 50, was transferred from Nevada to the Purgatory Correctional Facility, arriving in a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter that landed about 11:30 Arizona time Tuesday in the exercise yard behind the jail.

An initial court appearance was scheduled for 1 p.m. today before 5th District Judge James Shumate in nearby St. George. The hearing will occur via video cameras set up in the jail. It was unclear Tuesday whether Wright would appear with Jeffs, Washington County Senior Deputy Attorney Brian Filter said.

Since 2002, Jeffs has been leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect of 10,000 that for a century has made its home in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

Jeffs is charged in Utah with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice, accused of having arranged a "spiritual marriage" between a teenage girl and an older man.

He was arrested by the Nevada Highway Patrol during an Aug. 28 traffic stop after nearly two years on the run.

The reputed marriage took place some time within the past four years, when the girl was between ages 14 and 18, according to Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap. "Jane Doe," as the girl is referred to in court documents, objected to the marriage but was told by Jeffs that she must give herself "mind, body and soul" to her husband, court papers said.

Jeffs, who decides which of his followers marry and to whom, told the girl that she would lose her salvation if she did not obey her husband, court papers said.

Las Vegas jail records released Tuesday by Las Vegas police show that Jeffs was visited four times - once Friday, twice Saturday and once Monday - by Wright. On Saturday he was accompanied by Nephi Jeffs, one of Warren Jeffs' brothers, who also attended extradition proceedings in Las Vegas on Thursday.

Wright, a well-regarded Las Vegas defense lawyer, met again with Nephi Jeffs on Tuesday in Las Vegas for about an hour at the same time Warren Jeffs was arriving by helicopter in Utah. Nephi Jeffs ignored a reporter's questions afterward. Wright declined to comment.

Washington County officials had already planned to keep Warren Jeffs in a single 6-by-10 cell, on 23-hour lockdown and separate from other inmates, Smith said.

"We understand that there are going to be people that may not ascribe to his religious point of view, and they may not like him," he said.

Smith said the secrecy and security employed during Jeffs' helicopter transport from Nevada were fueled by a concern for his safety.

"When you're dealing with religious extremists, we don't know what to expect," he said. "We're 'worst-case scenario' people ... 120 miles in an automobile is not my idea of a smart way of making a transport with somebody."

Smith said he had every indication that Jeffs would be a "model prisoner," based on information from Las Vegas police and the "meek, passive" demeanor Jeffs exhibited during transport.

Jeffs, who was arrested on a federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, also faces felony charges in Arizona, accused there of arranging a marriage between a 16-old-girl and a 28-year-old man who was already married.

As with the Washington County charges, the Mohave County counts - conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor and sexual conduct with a minor, which each carry a penalty of two years in prison - do not accuse Jeffs of having sex with either girl but that he encouraged others to do so.

By some estimates, Jeffs has more than 40 wives and about six dozen children who have lived in million-dollar homes that cover an entire Hildale city block, surrounded by 14-foot brick walls and locked gates.

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