Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Has Warren Jeffs Turned His Trial into a Sermon on Polygamy?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Has Warren Jeffs Turned His Trial into a Sermon on Polygamy?

Article excerpt

Warren Jeffs, the polygamist leader charged with sexually assaulting two underage girls, broke his silence at the trial with an hour-long invective Friday.

In a single dramatic hour Friday, the course of the San Angelo, Texas, trial against polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs might have changed course.

With a rambling outburst that included a malediction against the prosecutors, a defense of polygamy, and direct quotes from "the Lord God," Jeffs broke his prolonged silence in the trial, then continued to interrupt proceedings throughout the rest of the day.

The outbursts could merely be a continuation of Mr. Jeffs's apparent legal tactic: delay. But they also have also effectively turned the courtroom into a pulpit for the leader of the breakaway Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who is now representing himself in the proceedings.

"No longer is it really a trial. He just wanted an occasion to give a sermon," Laurie Levenson, professor at the Loyola Law School, told CBS News.

Jeffs is charged with sexually assaulting two underage girls. If convicted, he could receive life in prison. He has claimed that, as the head of his church, he has the constitutional right to practice his own religion, which includes polygamy. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, repudiated polygamy more than a century ago.

Until 10:25 a.m. Friday, Mr. Jeffs had been spectator at his own trial. Before the trial had begun, he had fired his team of attorneys, saying they could not present "a pure defense."

Then, in opening statements, he said nothing as prosecutors vowed to provide evidence that he raped a 12-year-old girl and impregnated a 15 year old.

His silence had extended to the point that District Judge Barbara Walther eventually implored: "You've sat here now for an hour and not said a word," suggesting that further silence could yield "a very bad result. …

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