The story of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs continues to take bizarre twists and turns. Over the past five years, Jeffs, who describes himself as a prophet, has been accused of being an accomplice to rape and sexual assault, ran from police, attempted suicide, renounced his role as a religious prophet (then recanted) and is now demanding control of his fundamentalist sect once more (and these are only a few of the highlights). The never-ending saga never seems to simmer.
In his most recent legal wrangling, Jeffs is accused of sexually assaulting two underage girls whom he took as brides. His followers believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven and see Jeffs as God's earthly spokesman. Now, the fundamentalist leader is back in court, three days after threatening that God would strike down all involved should his trial continue.
The 55-year-old fired his attorneys and is representing himself. He gave a speech defending polygamy Friday, then read a statement he said was from God promising "sickness and death" unless the persecution of his religion ceases. According to GoSanAngelo.com, the situation went as follows:
"I, the Lord God in heaven, call upon the court to now cease this prosecution against my pure and holy way coming against my church," Jeffs said. "Let it stop now."
The room was enraptured at this point, as you can imagine, and the security guys were ready to pounce.
Jeffs continued, "I shall let all peoples know of your unjust ways. I shall send a scourge upon the counties of prosecutorial zeal to be humbled by sickness and death."
Before calling the jury back in, Walther warned Jeffs that if he threatened the jury, he would be removed from court. Jeffs told her he was only relaying "the message."
"Well, don't relay the message," Walther said.
This was only part of the religious leader's long-winded speech during the day's proceedings. Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, claims his rights to freedom of religion have been trampled. He wants the case delayed until a separate hearing on that issue is held, but the judge has refused. Considering all he has on the line, one would think Jeffs would want reliable representation. The Christian Science Monitor has more:
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.
The Salt Lake Tribune provides a historical timeline that comprehensively captures Jeffs' story. Back in 2002, following his father's ill health, he took over leadership of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In 2006, prosecutors filed accomplice to rape charges after they claim Jeffs presided over an unwilling marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. It was that same year that Jeffs was arrested in Nevada after being on the run for two years.
By 2007, Jeffs was renouncing his leadership of the denomination and claiming he was no longer a prophet (this was all captured on jailhouse tapes). Then, a few days after claiming he isn't divine, he attempted suicide. After being found guilty to the accomplice charges, the jail tapes in which he renounced his role as prophet were released to the public. Later that same year, Jeffs received 10 years to life and then stepped down as president of the FLDS Corporation of the President.
Then, there was the 2008 raid of the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado Texas in which 400 children were taken into protective custody, Later, they were returned to their parents, but a plethora of evidence was taken by police. This evidence led a grand jury to indict Jeffs on bigamy and sexual assault charges for two alleged underage spiritual marriages.
But, in 2010, the Utah Supreme Court granted Jeffs a victory, as his accomplice to rape conviction was overturned. In 2010, he was extradited from Utah to Texas. Then, in January 2011, Jeffs took back control of the FLDS Corporation of the President. Using a jail pay phone, he began excommunicating top church leaders, forcing them to leave their homes and families.
Now, a struggle for church leadership is ongoing (as are the sexual assault legal proceedings against Jeffs). What will happen next? Only time will tell.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.