Saturday, August 13, 2011
Harsh rules, sex assault described inside Jeffs' sect
SAN ANGELO, Texas -- A polygamist sect leader convicted of sexually assaulting two underage girls ruled his followers with a heavy hand, banning parades, dancing, Sports Illustrated magazine and even the color red, a sect member testified Saturday at his sentencing.
Warren Jeffs, 55, is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. More than 10,000 followers consider him God's spokesman on Earth. A jury convicted him Thursday of sexually assaulting two underage girls he took as brides and could sentence him to up to life in prison.
In the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecutors have been trying to show that Jeffs ruled the FLDS with a far heavier and crueler hand than his father, whom Jeffs succeeded in 2002. Ezra Draper, who was raised in the sect, returned to the witness stand and testified that while Rulon Jeffs allowed fun activities such as parades and dances, his son put a stop to them after he rose to power.
Also Saturday, a nephew of Jeffs told the jury that his uncle sexually abused him as a young boy. Brent Jeffs testified that his uncle sodomized him when he was 5 years old. Warren Jeffs never was charged with sexually assaulting his nephew, but Brent Jeffs says he and his uncle reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed in 2003. The settlement involved some land.
Draper recounted how Jeffs admonished him when he was 14 for liking a girl. Draper said Jeffs tapped his crotch with a yardstick and said it was better for him to lose one part of his body than risk all of it suffering in eternal damnation.
"I felt that this man was telling me to cut off my penis," Draper said.
He testified that 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 color red was prohibited, Draper said.
The charges against Jeffs stemmed from a 2008 police raid on a remote compound in west Texas. The call that led to the raid turned out to be a hoax, but while on the property, officers saw underage girls who were clearly pregnant. During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Jeffs fathered a child with one victim when she was 15. They played an audiotape of what they said was him sexually assaulting the other victim when she was 12.
Jeffs represented himself during the trial, but walked out of his sentencing in protest Friday. He has been held in another room in the courthouse and can return to the hearing whenever he wishes. He was not in the courtroom Saturday. District Judge Barbara Walther ordered Jeffs' stand-by counsel to represent him, but having been sidelined by Jeffs for the last two weeks, attorney Deric Walpole struggled Saturday to keep up with witnesses and evidence he was seeing for the first time. At one point, Walpole jumped from his chair to object while a former FLDS member testified. He asked Walther to have the jury leave the courtroom. "I have no idea what that man is getting ready to say," Walpole said.
Walther overruled the objection. Jeffs burned through a slate of seven high-powered attorneys, including Walpole, in the six months before he decided to represent himself, and Walther has said he did so in an effort to manipulate the court and 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.