Polygamist leader ruled with heavy hand

2011-08-08 09:15
San Angelo - Convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs ruled with a heavy and abusive hand, several former followers testified on Saturday, recounting how the man they once revered as a prophet banned parades, Sports Illustrated magazine and even the colour red upon rising to power.

The second day of Jeffs' sentencing hearing later ended with a woman, now 28-years-old, tearfully alleging that Jeffs also sexually abused her as a young girl. Charges were never filed in that alleged incident. Three jurors cried during the woman's testimony, and Judge Barbara Walthers adjourned court until Monday.

The same jury convicted Jeffs on Thursday on charges of sexually assaulting two underage girls he had taken as brides in Texas. He faces up to life in prison, and jurors are likely to decide his punishment early next week.

For the second straight day, Jeffs wasn't in court. He walked out in protest on Friday and has continued boycotting the proceedings, choosing instead to remain in another room of the courthouse.

Jeffs, aged 55, is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. More than 10 000 followers consider him God's spokesperson on Earth.

One of them was Ezra Draper, who testified that FLDS men began taking brides younger and younger after Jeffs took over the polygamous group in 2002.

Crueller than his father

"You could see which girls were with which fellas. It would repeat itself week after week," said Draper, who left the church in 2003. "Then they were with child."

Prosecutors have tried showing in the sentencing phase that Jeffs ruled the FLDS with a far heavier and crueller hand than his father, who Jeffs succeeded. Draper testified that while Rulon Jeffs allowed fun activities such as parades and dances, his son abruptly put a stop to it in the community.

Draper said Jeffs threw out copies of Sports Illustrated and Car and Driver found in the boys' bedrooms. Books that featured talking animals were banned because Jeffs considered it teaching lies. Even the colour red became prohibited, Draper said.

Jeffs also kept meticulous records - as jurors found out during the conviction phase of the trial. One of the most uncomfortable pieces of evidence so far has been an audiotape of what prosecutors said was Jeffs sexually assaulting one of his victims when she was 12.

On Saturday, prosecutors again dipped into a trove of Jeffs' records seized from a 2008 police raid on a remote FLDS ranch in West Texas. This time it was lengthy instructions on building a bed in the all-white, top-floor room in the ranch's temple.

The instructions allegedly written by Jeffs were exact: 5-inch [12.7] thick table legs, and padded sides on the bed while "the Lord does his work with me".

15-year-old mother

Jurors were shown the typed notes shortly after a nephew of Jeffs testified that his uncle sodomised him when he was 5-years-old. Brent Jeffs, now 28-years-old, said Warren Jeffs told him during the alleged assault that "this is God's work". Jeffs was never charged with sexually assaulting his nephew.

The Associated Press typically does not name alleged sexual assault victims, but Brent Jeffs has gone public with his allegations, including filing a civil lawsuit against his uncle in 2003. Brent Jeffs said the suit was settled in a deal that included him getting some land.

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Jeffs fathered a child with one victim when she was 15-years-old.

Jeffs represented himself during the trial, routinely interrupting the proceedings and choosing to stand silently in front of jurors for nearly a half-hour during his closing arguments. His absence from the sentencing phase since Friday made for a more typical trial atmosphere.

Walther ordered Jeffs' stand-by counsel to represent him. But having been sidelined by Jeffs for the last two weeks, attorney Deric Walpole struggled on Saturday to keep up with witnesses and evidence, some of which he was seeing for the first time.

At one point on Saturday, Walpole jumped from his chair to object while Draper testified. He asked Walther to have the jury leave the courtroom.

Stalling tactics

"I have no idea what that man is getting ready to say," Walpole said. His objection was overturned.

Jeffs burned through a slate of seven high-powered attorneys, including Walpole, in the six months before he decided to represent himself. Prosecutors have accused Jeffs of trying to stall the case against him.

Walpole declined to say whether he'll call witnesses during the sentencing phase. He has indicated that his plea for leniency will focus on Jeffs being a product of his environment and a culture that hasn't changed for centuries.

Read more on:    us  |  religion

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