Ten women and two men were selected to sit on the jury in the sexual assault trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs late Tuesday, after more than 100 potential jurors were excused for admitting theyâ€™d previously heard enough about his background to no longer presume him innocent, the Associated Press reports.
The 55-year-old Jeffs faces two counts of sexual assault of a child. If convicted, the maximum sentence for both is 119 years to life in prison. He will have a separate trial for bigamy in October.
Warren Jeffs is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect of the Mormon Church that believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.
Evidence â€˜will shock the worldâ€™
A woman who has faced Jeffs in the courtroom in the past says the trial will open the worldâ€™s eyes to the insular, polygamist world of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), says ABC News:
â€œIt will shock the world, the evidence that comes out,â€ Elissa Wall said today on â€œGood Morning America.â€
Wall was one of the first of Jeffsâ€™ followers to pursue criminal charges against him. She was 14-years-old when she says Jeffs, 55, forced her to marry her first cousin, Allen Steed.
â€œWarrens Jeffs was principal of my school. I was able to get out but it was a struggle,â€ Wall said today on â€œGMAâ€ of her experience with the accused leader, a story chronicled in her book, â€œStolen Innocence.â€
After leaving the FLDS, she pursued criminal charges against Steed for sexual assault and against Jeffs for being an accomplice to rape. Jeffs was convicted on those charges in 2007 but the conviction was overturned by an appellate court on a technicality. [...]
Wall told â€œGMAâ€ she believes the trial, no matter where it is held, will show the jury the controlling behavior she says Jeffs inflicts on his followers.
â€œHe did display a lot of narcissistic behavior,â€ she said. â€œHe was a lot like a prince in our community. He commanded a lot of respect and we all feared him very much.â€ [...]
Though Jeffs is facing up to life in prison and being held in a Texas jail, he is believed to still have a firm grip on the sect he leads and the lives of thousands of his followers. [...]
Jeffsâ€™ followers see him as a prophet who serves as Godâ€™s spokesman on earth. [...]
As prophet, Jeffs paired the communityâ€™s girls and women with the men he said God told him in revelations were meant to be married. Sect teachings emphasize that young girls and women are to be obedient to their husbands and serve them â€œmind, body and soulâ€ to achieve salvation in the afterlife.
Two Texas sheriffs confirmed to ABC News that Jeffs spent $23,000 on phone cards in five months, leading to beliefs he is still in complete control of the church. The sheriff officials said they believe Jeffs is â€œdirectingâ€ church members over the phone.
Last february Jeffs â€” from his prison cell in Texas â€” retook his post as President of the FLDS. He immediately ousted several of the cultâ€™s leaders.
One of the ousted leaders, William E. Jessop, then filed paperwork in attempt to gain control of the sectâ€™s corporate entity â€” a move that has lead to an increasingly heated fight for control.
In January of 2007, Jeffs told family and key sect members he had never been a prophet and named William E. Jessop as the faithâ€™s rightful leader. Shortly after his announcement Jeffs attempted to commit suicide. He later appeared to retract his statement about Jessop.
Courtâ€™s ruling on FLDS appeal could affect other cases
The Associated Press says that:
The charges against him stem from an April 2008 police raid on a church compound known as Yearning For Zion outside the town of Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo. Authorities who believed girls were being forced into polygamous marriages removed more than 400 children living at the compound, and TV images of women in frontier-style dresses and 19th century hairdos were shown across the country.
The original call to a domestic abuse hotline that sparked the raid turned out to be a hoax. Most of the children seized from the compound have since been returned to their families, but the evidence collected sparked charges including sexual assault and bigamy against Jeffs and 11 other FLDS men.
The defense has filed a motion to suppress evidence in the case, which includes tens of thousands of pages of documents seized at the ranch, even Jeffsâ€™ personal journals. There will be a hearing on that Wednesday afternoon, before the jury is formally sworn in.
The San Angelo Standard Times explains:
A convicted member of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints continues to serve prison time while an appeals court weighs his challenge to a search warrant crucial to the case.
When the Third Court of Appeals in Austin rules on the legal arguments by Michael Emack it could impact the case of Warren Jeffs and other FLDS members charged in Schleicher County, legal experts say.
But a decision may not come soon.
â€œItâ€™s not unusual for a court to scratch its head for six months, 10 months,â€ said Richard Segura, an Austin criminal defense attorney and lecturer in the University of Texas School of Law criminal defense clinic. â€œEvery case is different.â€
The appeals court heard oral arguments as recently as May and has been receiving post-argument briefs since then, Segura noted. He said the court is likely aware that many are watching for a decision, but the court is not supposed to be swayed by public opinion.
Jeffs and other defendants may be ultimately affected by any ruling that comes in Emackâ€™s appeal if theyâ€™ve raised a â€œmirror imageâ€ of the same argument, Segura said.
Jeffsâ€™ trial on sexual assault of a child began with jury selection Monday. The trial is expected to last about a month. A sealed court motion by Jeffs challenges evidence produced by a search warrant, apparently similar to the claim by Emack.
*FACTNet new editor: a special thanks to the folks at RNB and ApologeticsIndex.org
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