Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Rape, Sex crimes | Posted on 07-08-2011
Tags: Polygamy, Rape, Sexual assault
Warren Jeffs was lord of his realm. He was head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He was exalted by the 10,000 members of his sect, a radical offshoot of the Mormon Church. Unfortunately, what he called religion included his taking 78 wives, in addition to his legal spouse, 24 of whom were under the age of 17. Not just polygamy, but requiring multiple children to be his wives and requiring other children to be the wives of other men.
A raid in 2008 on the religious group’s Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, a West Texas ranch found women dressed in 19th century hairdos and frontier-style dresses. That was odd, but much more incriminating were several pregnant girls who were obviously underage. It turned out the hotline call that led to the raid was baseless. However, as any criminal defense attorney will tell you, evidence discovered based on what facts that constituted probable cause at the time will stand as lawfully obtained evidence, admissible in trial.
That trial just concluded last week in San Angelo, Texas, with two verdicts finding Jeffs guilty of child sexual abuse. The jury will now hear the separate penalty phase from which Jeffs could receive up to life in prison. Jeffs had fired a number of criminal defense lawyers over the months leading up to the trial and so ended up representing himself throughout the trial. He may have heard, but did not believe the old axiom someone who represents himself has a fool for a client. As usual, the serial lawyer changes slowed down the proceedings, but, as usual, once the trial got underway, the trial proceeded to the complete puzzlement of Jeffs, in spite of Jeff’s occasional outbursts. He declined to make an opening statement, declined to cross examine witnesses, and, for, closing argument, Jeffs stood silent for all but the last few minutes of his half hour allotted time. For most of the trial, Jeffs just sat silent, although he did go berserk on a few instances, yelling and lecturing the judge at length, on occasion reading a proclamation “from God.”
Last year, Jeffs got lucky. He had been convicted by a jury in Utah, but his two sentences of up to life imprisonment were reversed by the Utah Supreme Court. Jeffs had been found guilty of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl. The girl testified Jeffs pressured her to marry a 19-year-old man, one of the “husbands” of Jeffs sect. The appellate court reversal was based on the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury that for a verdict of guilty, the jury had to find the defendant had the specific intent for the husband to have non-consensual sex with the girl. Upon the reversal, while the Utah cases were reset on the trail dockets, Jeffs was then extradited to Texas for the trial arising from the 2008 raid.
Jeffs had been indicted in Schleicher County, Texas, of sexually assaulting an under-age girl and tried in San Angelo. DNA evidence was introduced at the trial to prove he fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and audio tapes were played. Interestingly, neither of the underage girls with whom he was accused of having sex testified. He also was indicted on separate bigamy charges, which also arose from his time at the church compound that was raided.
Among the objections Jeffs made to the trial judge, District Judge Barbara Walther, during the trial was for her recusal from the case based on the fact that this judge had approved the search warrant for the raid on the ranch in 2008. It is a perfectly logical objection, that the judge who already found probable cause for the issuance of the warrant might be invested in the process, and a different judge sitting for the trial would avoid “the appearance of bias.” But that logical approach would be contrary to the law in Oklahoma. This issue was raised and found wanting by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in 2001. Raising this issue was apparently one of the few things Jeffs did that made sense. His outbursts and threats of “the wrath of God” which he leveled at the judge and sermons defending polygamy were made right in front of the jury. This is apparently how he would ordinarily act, so the presence of the jury did not make any difference to him.