Jeffs appears via video in Utah court

He asks judge for a week to find a lawyer

Deseret Morning News/September 7, 2006
By Ben Winslow and Nancy Perkins

St. George -- Looking thin and pale, captured polygamist leader Warren Jeffs made his first court appearance here in 5th District Court, finally facing charges of rape as an accomplice.

Appearing Wednesday via video hookup from the Purgatory Jail, Jeffs sat silent through most of the hearing, blinking at the camera.

"Mr. Jeffs, can you hear me OK, sir?" Judge James L. Shumate asked.

"Yes," Jeffs said, softly.

As the judge read the charges and possible punishments, Jeffs looked down at the copy in his hands, following along. Shumate asked Jeffs if he had an attorney.

"I have a Nevada attorney helping me find Utah counsel. I ask for a week to do that," Jeffs replied.

As the six-minute hearing concluded, Jeffs leaned forward to the camera trying to speak but was cut off by the judge. Shumate set a status conference for Monday, where he will be updated on whether Jeffs has a lawyer, address the preliminary hearing and bail issues. Jeffs is being held without bail.

Jeffs said his lawyer suggested he request a delay for the preliminary hearing.

But Shumate was reluctant to postpone the hearing set for Sept. 19.

Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said his office is "prepared to go forward with our case" against Jeffs.

"Our office will be cooperative if he requests a continuance. We will not object to it," Belnap told reporters after the hearing.

Courthouse security

Security outside the courthouse was intense.

SWAT team sharpshooters were spotted on nearby rooftops and redrock hillsides. Officers were also walking the streets surrounding the courthouse, watching people go in and out.

"We just want to make sure everything goes smoothly," St. George Police Sgt. Craig Harding said.

Even though Jeffs was not in the courthouse, police used the hearing as a SWAT training exercise to prepare for when the polygamist leader will be transported to court.

Jeffs remains in isolation at the jail. Sheriff's deputies who were watching him told the Deseret Morning News that Jeffs appeared to be "doing OK" behind bars.

"He's nice and quiet," Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said of Jeffs' first day in Purgatory. "He's just a quiet individual."

'Uncle Warren'

In the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church kept silent about the arrest of their leader. None of his followers was in court Wednesday. Ex-members said Jeffs is portraying himself as someone who is "persecuted" for his religious beliefs.

"He's being persecuted by the wicked people of the world," ex-FLDS member Ross Chatwin said. "He's going to play that role of Christ crucified, I think."

Jeffs is revered by FLDS faithful, even in song. The Deseret Morning News has obtained a copy of the lyrics to the song "We Love You, Uncle Warren," written about five years ago and taught to FLDS children. It reads in part:

"Uncle Warren is a busy man; he works from dawn to dark
To carry out the Prophet's will with all his mind and heart.
But he will take the time with joy to greet each little girl and boy.
Uncle Warren is a plain man; he doesn't care for show.
He shuns the fame and riches that most men covet so.
Yet in his humble dignity, he's greater than a king to me.
Uncle Warren is a perfect Priesthood man;
To the Prophet he is loyal through and through.
And he's so full of love for our father above,
You just can't help but love him, too."

The charges

Jeffs, 50, is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He is accused of forcing an underage girl into a polygamous marriage with an older man. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

In Mohave County, Ariz., Jeffs is charged with sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor in arranging child-bride marriages.

Federal authorities still have a pair of active warrants against Jeffs accusing him of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah would not rule out charging Jeffs to keep him from posting bail.

"Turning the (federal) warrant into an indictment is still a possibility," U.S. Attorney's spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said Wednesday.

Jeffs was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list until being arrested last week during a traffic stop outside Las Vegas.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.