06 August 2011
by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
It has been said that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. Well, Warren Jeffs, the fifty-five year old breakaway Mormon sect leader, acted as his own lawyer, and he lost the case. The polygamist and child sexual molester was convicted on having sex with a minor. He walked out of his sentencing hearing after reading a statement where he claimed that God was going to send a “whirlwind of judgement” on the world if His “humble servant” was not set free.
Jeffs faces up to 119 years in prison after his eight day trial ended with a conviction. Before the jury entered to hear whether or not they should send this man to prison until he was 174 years old, Jeffs demanded “I request the full removal of myself as an objection to all that has been presented.” He then demanded that he be allowed to continue to act as his own lawyer.
District Judge Barbara Walther pointed out that he could not both leave and act as his own lawyer, so she ordered his two standby counsel, Deric Walpole and Emily Munoz Detoto, to represent him. Walther pointed out “Mr. Jeffs, I know this is difficult for you to understand, but you do not have control over these proceedings.”
Jeffs, not quite getting that he was already on thin ice, responded by starting to say “I am…”. Walther ordered a recess. Jeffs was not seen in court again after that.
Jurors were ordered to return to court on Saturday in order to continue hearing evidence, but it may still be several days before they are given the case back in order to decide Jeffs’ punishment.
Walpole was very tight lipped about whether or not Jeffs would be there in court on Saturday or if he was going to call any witnesses. He did remind jurors that Jeffs came from a strict fundamentalist community that had remained isolated for over a century. Walpole state “He’s a product of his environment.”
Jeffs is the spiritual head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They believe that polygamy brings exaltation in heaven, and the more than 10,000 FLDS members nationwide believe Jeffs is a prophet and God’s spokesman on Earth.
Jeffs had asked to be taken back to jail, but Walther said that would make it too difficult for his lawyers to communicate with him. Instead, he was placed in a room near the court and will be allowed to return to the hearing whenever he chooses. The judge said Jeffs won’t be able to dismiss his attorneys again and go back to defending himself, however.
He burned through a slate of seven high-powered attorneys, including Walpole and Detoto, in the six months before he decided to represent himself, and Walther said he did so in an effort to manipulate the court and stall the case against him.
Prosecutors will be showing jurors evidence of other alleged crimes committed by Jeffs that were not covered by this trial. Among the alleged crimes include the fact that Jeffs supposedly had 78 wives along with his legal spouse, and 24 of these wives were under the age of 17. There is evidence that he committed six other sexual assaults that he was not charged with, and that he performed or witnessed more than 500 polygamist marriages, including several marriages involving underage girls.
Jeffs spent years on the lam crisscrossing the nation as a fugitive. He made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list and was arrested in 2006. He excommunicated 60 church members, according to the prosecution, that he felt threatened his leadership. He broke up 300 families, stripping them of property and reassigning the wives and children.
According to the news report:
All of that is separate from the assaults on two girls, ages 12 and 15, that Jeffs was convicted of Thursday, after jurors deliberated for 3½ hours. Prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with the older victim and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting the younger one. They played other tapes in which Jeffs was heard instructing as many as a dozen of his young wives on how to please him sexually — and thus, he told them, please God.
“The defendant abused not only his position, but those religious views you’ve heard about as a means of satisfying his own personal greed, desires and appetites,” Nichols said.
Walpole responded by saying Jeffs was raised in the church and couldn’t betray his own religious tenets. Jeffs took over leadership of the FLDS from his father.
“He would rather go to prison than disagree with those beliefs,” Walpole said. “He’d rather make a complete mess of this case.”
He later told jurors, “you’ve shown you can be tough. Now it’s time to show you can be fair.”