The man appearing on monitors that day in the 5th District Courthouse, a grand red-brick building dominating the south-western Utah town of St George, looked gaunt in a white sweatshirt and glasses. He confirmed his name, Warren Jeffs, but that was almost all the information he would offer. To almost every question put to him, Jeffs refused to answer "based upon my rights under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution".
Jeffs is the leader of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), an offshoot of the Mormon church. Since 2006, he has been behind bars for sexually assaulting two children in his congregation. Following a raid on the church's enormous Yearning for Zion Ranch in the tiny Texas town of Eldorado, child protection officers found what they described as a "pervasive pattern" of sexual abuse through forced marriages between men and under-age girls which Jeffs had overseen. He's also accused of corruption, and for a long time was one of America's most wanted men. And this month, he'll even get his own biopic - Outlaw Prophet - on US TV.
Now he was supposed to be testifying in a case brought by a former church member; Lorin Holm was attempting to get legal custody of his children from two of his wives who were still members of the sect. In her deposition, one of those wives, Patricia Peine, was asked: "Is he [Jeffs] still directing the church?" to which she replied: "Yes, he is."
Jeffs has managed to write a book while in prison - full of revelations he says Jesus Christ has made to him. And in 2012, Utah's Desert News newspaper said he had posted edicts to schools, libraries and government agencies, one of which predicted the downfall of the president. Today, Jeffs continues to preach to - and direct the lives of - his church members, a congregation numbering between 10,000 and 100,000 (estimates vary wildly). Quite extraordinary for a man confined to a prison cell.
In the court at the end of March, despite Jeffs's frail appearance and reluctance to speak, something interesting emerged: the sheer amount of power and influence he still holds over followers. Jeffs, it became clear, was still very much in charge, still a prophet - a designation that, under church law, only dies with him.
The FLDS emerged shortly after the Mormon church renounced polygamy in 1890. The new sect members lived in Short Creek, now the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, separated by the state border. As John Krakauer writes in Under the Banner of Heaven, his 2003 book about the church, members believed Mormon leaders "made an unforgivable compromise by capitulating to the US Government on polygamy"; they consider themselves "the only true and righteous Mormons".
Their leader between 1954 and 1986 was Leroy "Uncle Roy" Johnson, who married a 12-year-old. He was succeeded by Warren Jeffs's father, Rulon, who was rumoured to have as many as 75 wives and 65 children. Krakauer writes that Rulon traced "his divinely ordained leadership in an unbroken chain" directly to Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church. Rulon forbade members from watching television or reading newspapers. After his death in 2002, Warren became the sect's leader and, like his father, had the sole authority to conduct marriages, "reassigning" the wives of members he deemed wayward to other men, and controlling the children's lives. He taught that black people were cursed and that women should forever remain submissive to their husbands.
In 2003, the FLDS bought some land on the outskirts of Eldorado, Texas. They built a vast 1,700-acre ranch they christened Yearning For Zion (YFZ) and a huge amphitheatre. "Now, we are to become a united people that will build a city called Zion, heaven on earth," Jeffs told his flock.
Until the Utah courts intervened following his sentencing for child abuse, Jeffs controlled almost all the land in Hildale and Colorado City, estimated to be worth more than $100million (£60 million).
But it was the marriages Jeffs was apparently conducting between men and under-age girls that concerned authorities. Jeffs went on the run, wanted in both Utah and Arizona on suspicion of sexual misconduct and arranging those illegal marriages, and he spent a year on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
In August 2006, in a routine traffic stop, he was arrested by a Nevada highway patrol officer who discovered in his car three wigs and sunglasses that he had used to elude capture, plus credit cards, cash and computers. Among evidence later recovered by the FBI was an audio recording of Jeffs engaging in sexual intercourse with a 12-year-old.
At his first trial, in Utah, he was convicted of being an accomplice to rape and sentenced to 10 years in prison. A year later Texas authorities removed more than 400 children from the YFZ ranch, seeking evidence of child abuse. But this turned out to be a public relations disaster when the children were handed back to their families. Then, in 2010, Jeffs's conviction was overturned on appeal because of incorrect instructions given to the jury.
He was extradited to stand trial in Texas - a trial that from the outset was going to be eventful after Jeffs was granted the right to represent himself. At one point, in defending plural marriage, he declared: "If we do not live these laws we are damned here and hereafter… We believe in a marriage system of eternity called celestial marriage… heavenly authorised."
At one stage Jeffs asked the court to cease his prosecution, telling the jury God would "bring sickness and death". Prosecutors said he had sexually assaulted two girls aged 12 and 15 and presented DNA evidence showing he had fathered a child with a 15-year-old. They said he had 78 wives, 24 of whom were under age at the time of the marriage. An FBI agent testified that fathers who gave their children to Jeffs were rewarded with young brides of their own. One witness, Rebecca Musser, who was the child bride of Jeffs's father Rulon, told the court how specially made beds in designated rooms inside the YFZ temple were arranged so that church members could witness the abuse.
Jurors were in tears as they listened to a tape of Jeffs from 2004 giving detailed instructions to his brides on how to satisfy him - something he termed "the celestial sessions" - and saying they would be rejected by God if they refused. During the sentencing phase, Jeffs's nephew testified that he had been repeatedly raped since he was five years old; his niece that she had been abused since she was seven. The judge sentenced Jeffs to life in prison plus 20 years.
After the trial, images emerged of a bed that stood on a limestone plinth in the centre of a white-carpeted room in the YFZ ranch, on which Jeffs sexually assaulted numerous children. "This will be made so that it can be taken apart and stored in a closet where no one can see it," Jeffs wrote in his journal, recovered by police. "It will have a plastic cover to protect the mattress from what will happen on it."
According to former members, Jeffs had the authorities of his Colorado City stronghold in his pocket. The mayor and entire police force are church members. This February, that mayor, Joseph Allred, refused to testify in a civil lawsuit filed by a couple claiming the city government discriminated against them because they weren't FLDS members. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, for 45 minutes a lawyer asked the mayor about the relationship between his church and his government "and for 45 minutes the man refused to answer". Prosecutors also asked Allred about communicating with Jeffs while he was on the run, but according to the newspaper he had only one answer: he pleaded the Fifth.
The US Department of Justice is also bringing a case against Colorado City and Hildale, alleging much the same as the couple's civil lawsuit - that the towns are controlled by the church and discriminate against outsiders. In April, court documents from the federal case showed that Allred could have married a teenage girl.
Until 2012, the six men who make up the marshal's office - all followers of Jeffs - were the town's only law enforcement body. "And," Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne told a local TV station, "they enforce the edicts of Warren Jeffs and not the law."
In April, the state began seizing the YFZ ranch in Eldorado. Some of Jeffs's followers had stayed behind after his arrest, but the majority are thought to have moved to Colorado City, already a church stronghold of 4,600 people.Roger Hoole, the lawyer who represented Lorin Holm, says Jeffs's followers have agreed to his command to ignore any media coverage. "He says he'll ultimately come out of prison and that they need to be more obedient and faithful. He does this from prison in a number of ways: through letters, telephone calls, visits with family members, and attorneys. He gives information to them and they pass that on."
Hoole says the problem is that the protections the law provides in the US for children don't exist in Colorado City. "Since most of the marriages there are spiritual, not legal," he says, "marriages can be dissolved at the wave of a hand and women can be reassigned from one man to the next and their children will follow without any adoption forms.
"I would say when you cloak yourself in a religious shroud you can get away with a lot of things. [Jeffs is] nothing but a fraud and a paedophile but he won't allow his people to believe that, or see any media that explains it. They're still blindly following him."
Andrew Chatwin was one of those followers. He left the FLDS church 16 years ago, but he still lives in Colorado City. Most of the town shuns him, and he still has brothers and sisters in the church who refuse to speak to him. "Jeffs is still very much in control," Chatwin tells me. "He annulled all the marriages, so if you're an FLDS member, you're not married any more. The church believes it owns all the women and children and the men are just caretakers."
Chatwin says that through his prison edicts, Jeffs has broken apart every family in the church and created a new "United Order". "These are the elite," Chatwin says. "The ones who are going to make it to heaven for sure. It's the carrot he's dangling in front of everybody; that if you're worthy enough you're going to go to Zion, where Jesus Christ is going to come down and rule as king. And the people want to be the chosen ones so badly that they're buying into these lies Jeffs is telling them."
Flora Jessop left the FLDS in 1986 when she was 16 and has been fighting to free women and children there ever since. "They say he [Jeffs] is there on false charges; that he's not guilty of anything he's accused of," Jessop tells me. She was born into the church. She has 28 brothers and sisters, three of whom, like her, are now out. "The rest are still on the inside," she says. "My mother's still in and won't speak to me."
Jessop says Jeffs's trial and imprisonment saw hardly a dent in membership - that the faithful are convinced that if they don't follow him, regardless of his conviction for sex crimes, they'll be damned to hell for eternity. "They consider him a martyr for their cause," she says. She claims that Jeffs has appointed several men in the community to take charge of the congregation. "They've split up families, and none of the members of the United Order is allowed to work. They've systematically gone through the community and kicked out the majority of the men… the male gene pool is down to very few guys.
"I think Warren has believed all along that God is going to tear down the walls of the prison and let him walk away," Jessop says. "When you have 10,000 to 20,000 people every day bow down to you and worship you because they think you are God, sooner or later you'll start believing it. Warren Jeffs is caught in that rift. And it's very dangerous."
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