Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs arrives in Utah to face sex charges involving child bride

Tuesday, September 5th 2006, 12:13 pm
By: News On 6

HURRICANE, Utah (AP) _ Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was flown back to Utah on Tuesday to face felony sex charges involving the arranged marriage of an underage girl to an older man.

Accompanied by sheriff's deputies, he arrived at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane shortly after noon, said Washington County Sheriff's Lt. Rob Tersigni.

An initial court appearance was expected Wednesday before 5th District Judge James L. Shumate, though the court typically conducts initial appearances via video link from the jail. A public defender could be appointed for Jeffs then if he has no attorney.

Jeffs, 50, had been on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list until his arrest last month during a chance traffic stop near Las Vegas.

Even behind bars, he is considered the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist sect with an estimated 10,000 followers, many in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The sect broke away from the Mormon church more than a century ago and has been disavowed by the Mormons.

Jeffs is charged in Utah with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice, accused of having arranged a ``spiritual marriage'' between a teenage girl and an older man. Each count carries a penalty of up to life in prison if convicted.

The alleged marriage took place some time within the past four years, when the girl was between age of 14 and 18, according to Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap. ``Jane Doe,'' as the girl is referred to in court documents, objected to the marriage but was told by Jeffs that she must she must give herself ``mind, body and soul'' to her husband, court papers said.

Jeffs, who decides which of his followers marry and to whom, told the girl that she would lose her salvation if she did not obey her husband, court papers said.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday if Jeffs has hired an attorney. Over the past few years, he has failed to defend himself or his church against civil lawsuits filed in Salt Lake City.

In Purgatory Correctional Facility, a 500-bed county jail 30 miles west of Hildale, Jeffs will be held in a small cell alone for 23 hours a day, with one hour for showers, exercise and phone calls, according to Sheriff Kirk Smith. He will be allowed up to two hours of visitation weekly.

Jeffs also faces felony charges in Arizona, accused there of arranging a marriage between a 16-old-girl and a 28-year-old man, who was already married.

As with the Washington County charges, the Mohave County, Ariz., counts _ conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor and sexual conduct with a minor, which each carry a penalty of two years in prison _ do not accuse Jeffs of having sex with either girl, but that he encouraged others to do so.

By some estimates, Jeffs has more than 40 wives and about six dozen children who have lived in million-dollar homes that cover an entire Hildale city block, surrounded by 14-foot brick walls and locked gates. It's not known if his families remained on the premises while he was a fugitive.