Judge plans to close courtroom during hearing in polygamist sect leader's case

Associated Press/July 18, 2007

St. George, Utah — A judge said he will close the courtroom Friday to hear arguments over evidence in the case of the leader of a polygamous sect accused of sex crimes.

Fifth District Judge James Shumate said Warren Jeffs could be denied a fair trial even if prosecutors are told they can't use the evidence at the Sept. 10 trial. At issue are statements Jeffs made in jail.

Shumate said disclosure of the statements in news accounts would place "such a cloud" over the case that he "could not feel good about picking a jury" anywhere in Utah, The Salt Lake Tribune reported on its Web site.

The judge made the decision Tuesday after hearing arguments privately in his office. The attorneys included Jeff Hunt, who represented a media coalition, including The Associated Press, and urged Shumate to open the hearing to the public Friday.

Jeffs, 51, is accused of two counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in a 2001 spiritual marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which practices polygamy and arranged marriage.

Shumate said he will open the courtroom during arguments over the possible trial testimony of two former FLDS members who have extensive knowledge of the church and Jeffs.

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