Jeffs takes Fifth in prison deposition

Salt Lake Tribune/February 22, 2008

Polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs refused to answer any questions that might reunite a teen with his mother during a short interview at the Utah State Prison Thursday.

Jeffs met with attorney Roger Hoole for about 10 minutes in the prison infirmary, where he was moved Feb. 19 after beginning a partial fast.

Hoole represents Johnny Jessop, who sued Jeffs in hopes of being reunited with his mother, Elsie Jessop. The teen spoke with his mother several times after filing his lawsuit last year, but has had no contact with her since.

"He just wants to be back with his mom," Hoole said of Jessop, 19. "There is only one person who can do that."

But on the advice of defense attorney Walter F. Bugden, who was present during the interview, Jeffs refused to answer nearly all of Hoole's questions. Bugden even had to coax Jeffs to state his birth date.

Hoole went ahead with the deposition after learning Jeffs was in the infirmary, saying his self-imposed fast did not make him incapable of answering questions.

According to a transcript of the deposition filed in court, Bugden said Jeffs has lost seven pounds since his arrival at the state prison in November. Bugden said Jeffs is malnourished, dehydrated and that his knees "are bloody with oozing sores" because of extended periods of prayer.

"I do not believe that Mr. Jeffs is able to comprehend and able to participate in a meaningful way in this proceeding," Bugden said. "I think that the fasting and the dehydration have impaired his mental functioning."

Bugden also said Jeffs would invoke his right to remain silent given criminal charges pending against him in Arizona and his effort to seek a new trial in Utah because of juror misconduct.

Jeffs was convicted in September of two felony counts of rape as an accomplice. The charges are related to a marriage Jeffs performed in 2001 between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is serving two consecutive prison terms of five years to life.

Jeffs has served as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, based in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., since 2002. Jeffs told followers last year he was resigning from the post but it is unclear whether he or someone else now leads the sect.

Hoole said that Jeffs appeared very frail during the interview and spoke so softly it was difficult to hear him. The sect leader, who is 52, sat on an examination table.

At one point, Hoole asked Jeffs if he was willing to do anything that might help Jessop or others exiled from the sect reunite with their families.

Jeffs' answer: "Fifth Amendment."

Hoole also reminded Jeffs that a year ago, while jailed at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, he had expressed regret for harm he caused some families. Those comments came in recorded conversations with a brother and followers.

"I asked if he was willing to take the next step to help families get back together," Hoole said Friday.

Jeffs' answer: "Fifth Amendment on any questions."

Hoole said Jessop may pursue an additional court order compelling Jeffs to help him find his mother.

Jessop was 10 when Jeffs exiled his father from the faith and reassigned his mother to then-FLDS bishop Fred Jessop. At age 13, he ran away for several days and was subsequently told by a brother that Jeffs wanted him out of the community.

Jessop lived with relatives over the next two years and then left the community for good when he was 15. He was taken in by South Jordan dentist Dan Fischer, a former sect member.

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