Polygamist Sect Leader Pleads Not Guilty

Associated Press/February 27, 2008

Kingman, Ariz. - Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs pleaded not guilty Wednesday to sex charges stemming from the arranged marriages of two teenage girls to older men.

Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted in Utah last year of rape as an accomplice in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. It was his first court appearance in Arizona, where prosecutors filed charges against him even before he faced charges in Utah.

Jeffs, flanked by three law enforcement officers, wore an orange and white striped jail uniform and ankle and wrist cuffs. He had a slight smile when he walked into the courtroom and talked in hushed tones with his lawyers.

The only thing he said during the hearing was "yes" when Superior Court Judge Steven Conn asked him if he was Warren Jeffs. Otherwise, he sat quietly with his hands folded in his lap.

The Arizona charges stem from the arranged marriages of a man in his early 50s to his 17-year-old relative and the marriage of the same teenagers that led to the Utah conviction.

Prosecutors in Arizona said that doesn't prevent them from bringing charges here.

Jeffs' lawyer, Mike Piccarreta, entered the not guilty plea on his behalf. Piccarreta plans to ask Conn for a change of venue, saying Kingman is too close to St. George, Utah, the site of Jeffs' first trial, for him to get a fair trial here.

"If people want to give Mr. Jeffs a fair trial, we have to hold it in an area as far away as practical from the other case in Utah," Piccarreta said Tuesday, when Jeffs was returned to Kingman from Utah, where he had begun serving his prison term for his conviction there.

Jeffs is charged in Arizona as an accomplice with four counts of incest and four counts of sexual contact with a minor in an indictment issued last year. He also was arraigned on two additional counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of conspiracy to conduct sexual conduct with a minor from a case filed in 2005.

Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith has said the trial should be held in his county because that's where the crimes allegedly occurred.

Conn ordered Jeffs held in the Mohave County jail without bond and scheduled a hearing for March 19. He was returned to Kingman on Tuesday from Utah, where he had begun serving his prison term for his conviction there.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is based in Colorado City, Ariz. and nearby Hildale, Utah.

The mainstream Mormon church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago, excommunicates members who engage in the practice and disavows any connection with the FLDS church.

Jeffs was a fugitive for nearly two years and was on the FBI's Most Wanted list when he was arrested during a traffic stop outside Las Vegas.

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