The Warren Jeffs Trial
Dispatches from the Warren Jeffs trial in San Angelo
Editor’s Note: Senior Editor Katy Vine, who wrote about the YFZ Ranch in 2009, is in San Angelo reporting on the Warren Jeffs trial. Read her daily dispatches from court here, and follow her on Twitter @katy_vine.
August 9, 2011
When the jurors walked in the courtroom this morning with smiles on their faces, just about everyone in the gallery figured the deliberation process wouldn’t take much time. It didn’t.
But before they could run to their cars, crank up the air conditioning, and drive away as quickly as possible, they’d have to hear one final closing statement from the prosecution. (Jeffs instructed his lawyers not to give a closer.) The state’s lead, Eric Nichols, talked about how Jeffs left “a trail of victims in his wake.” He pivoted off the defense’s characterization of Jeffs as Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Anyone else hear the wind knocked out of the defense attorneys on that one?) Then he ended by reminding the jury of Jeffs’ layout for a “Big House” at the YFZ Ranch. “Mr. Jeffs” he said, “the state of Texas also has a big house and this is where you belong for the rest of your days.”
In thirty-nine minutes, the jury sentenced Warren Steed Jeffs to life in prison for two charges: aggravated sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child. He was flown to Huntsville prison around 1:30 p.m. I think everybody was relieved the trial was finally over—that includes Jeffs’ attorneys, who were released immediately.
On the way to my car, preparing to head out of town, another reporter smiled. “Well, my friend,” he said, “I think we were both ring-side for a piece of American history.” Let us hope we don’t get that opportunity again anytime soon.
August 8, 2011
Long before the prosecution rested their case this afternoon, a few people in the courtroom voiced what everyone else had begun wondering: Is any of the day’s testimony really going to change a juror’s mind? The group had heard enough evidence to convict Warren Jeffs on sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault charges. They had already heard two former FLDS members testify that Jeffs raped them when they were younger than eight years old. They had read dictations in which Jeffs manipulated fathers, mothers, and children; broke up families; and ran from the law as a fugitive. My guess is, the state wanted to enter as many misdeeds as possible into the record so the whole gruesome picture of a demented puppeteer could be painted, but some in the courtroom thought the effort was overkill. “It’s like the prosecution is just showing off at this point,” one colleague said with a shrug.
Most of what we heard in the proceedings today involved Jeffs’ desire to assemble young girls into a “quorum” of wives. (All told, investigators say, he married twelve minors under the age of sixteen.) On one occasion, his scribe wrote that he awoke at 5:25 a.m. and, during his conversation with the Lord, said, “Wow, whatever you say, yes sir…the Lord is showing me that I must take another young girl…he is showing me she will be easily taught…I will have to give her father the training.” A few days later, he married a twelve-year-old. (Not the same twelve-year-old who is the younger victim in this trial.) Tellingly, Jeffs was very aware that his taste for younger and younger girls would find disapproval outside the FLDS. “If they knew what I was doing they would hang me from the highest tree,” he wrote. “They would do worse than that.” Then more graphic audio recordings with minors present were played, which were probably sufficiently upsetting for the jury. In one recording, Jeffs concluded some in-depth instruction on group sex by asking, “Is this detail enough?” I think the whole courtroom wanted to shout, “Ugh! Yes!”
At this point, the jury probably needed a break from the tales of Jeffs’ oppressive cruelty, and they got it when the state described Jeffs’ disguises and his time as a fugitive. Since Jeffs is usually shown looking somber in a suit or a button-down shirt, it was pretty weird to see a photo that showed him smiling goofily, wearing a t-shirt that read “One size fits all.” The jury heard about his cross-country expedition, trying out a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a Porche. You better believe there were snickers in the courtroom, and the prosecution took the opportunity to remind the jury that while Jeffs was out driving fancy cars, he was sending word to his followers that they weren’t praying hard enough for him.
After that, the jury was thrust was back into the depths of Jeffs’ perversions. Of his 78 wives, one investigator testified, 29 were former stepmothers, 56 were sisters (related to each other, not to him), 35 were former students of his, and 24 were girls under the age of eighteen. The prosecution honed in on each of the twelve youngest wives, showing a photograph in cases where one was available. The take-away was unmistakable: he was a pedophile with unchecked power.
Everyone could feel this was the closer. By the end, there wasn’t much for the defense to say in return. After the state rested, Jeffs’ attorneys quickly did the same. I can’t say anybody could blame them.
August 6, 2011
On Saturday, after almost two days of testimony in the punishment phase of Warren Jeffs’ trial, I began to notice that jurors met each new witness with a look of trepidation. In a two-week period they have heard so many horrific stories about the defendant—a man who, two weeks ago, was unknown to them—and I can only imagine they’re wondering, “Sweet Jesus, how much worse can it get?”
The sheer volume of information has to be difficult for the jury to process. So far, they’ve heard that he took underage brides. (Last week, they found him guilty of sexually assaulting a fifteen-year-old, with whom he fathered a child, as well as assaulting a twelve-year-old.) They heard an audio recording in which Jeffs gathered “a quorum” of his wives, asked them to disrobe, and, while the women were naked, instructed them on helping their sisterwives have sex with him—all with the fifteen-year-old “wife” present. They heard an audio recording in which he named the twelve-year-old; after he grunted for awhile, they heard the young girl he was addressing speak.
This would all be enough, for some, to give Warren Jeffs the stiffest penalty allowed. But first, they’d have to hear more. Since Texas’ penalty phase allows the prosecution to reveal the entirety of the defendant’s character, as they see it, the jury is learning that the underage marriages were not Jeffs’ only sins.
When the former FLDS took the stand yesterday, I wished their voices could have been pumped into a speaker across the hallway, where Warren Jeffs was sitting in a guarded room. (Fragile flower that he is, he opted to be removed from the courtroom for this portion of the trial.) One man told how Jeffs kicked him out of school for writing love letters. He recounted how his brother was kicked out of the community and, a while later, killed himself by driving off a cliff. This testimony touched on the difficulties of excommunication, just in case anyone happened to think it was synonymous with freedom.
Then came the first-hand accounts of child molestation. A 28-year-old man took the stand and testified that when he was five years old, Warren Jeffs took him into a little blue bathroom and raped him. Jeffs told the witness that “this was God’s word.” A few minutes later, another 28-year-old witness testified that Jeffs sexually assaulted her as a child. She was seven years old at the time of the occurrence. This woman could barely spit out his name without sobbing. “I didn’t know enough to tell him ‘no,’” she said. It was absolutely devastating.
How many more of these stories are out there? In opening arguments for the punishment phase, the prosecutor said he intended to introduce “six instances of illegal sexual conduct involving individuals.” On Monday morning, we’ll likely hear more disturbing stories of Jeffs manipulating and traumatizing his followers. And I’ll be surprised if, by the end of this, the jury doesn’t send him to an isolated cell for the rest of his life.
August 5, 2011
It may not surprise anybody that Warren Jeffs’ first impulse this morning was to get the heck out of the room, and of course, he created some theater for the occasion. After reading his most recent revelation from the Lord, he asked to be removed, and his shadow counsel, Deric Walpole, took over. This may have marked the first time that viewers in the gallery didn’t feel compelled to question his instincts. Former FLDS members were out in the hallway ready to unpack about a hundred bags of his dirty laundry, and no doubt he didn’t want to have to face the humiliation.
Once Walpole had straightened his tie at the defense table, and Jeffs was safely across the hall, the day’s testimony started. First up was an expert witness from Utah, a clinical psychologist who has treated 22 former members of the FLDS. For the first time in this trial, we actually saw a disciplined objection from the defense. It was almost jarring to have so much order. For more than a week, the court held its breath every time the rogue defendant rose to speak; suddenly we were thrust back into the normal world where lawyers made reasonable statements like, “I object, your honor,” and sited their reasoning succinctly. This return to decorum throughout the questioning of the first witness changed the dynamics in the room. The judge was more at ease; the lawyers sparred naturally and enthusiastically. By the end of the day, the guilt-innocence phase seemed like an avant-garde play you can barely remember having seen.
The psychologist informed the jury about the long-term effects of childhood sexual assaults (facts that are surely important), but the more dramatic testimony was provided by two former FLDS witnesses who described the effect Warren Jeffs had on the church community. Following the death of Rulon Jeffs, in 2002, Warren became the prophet, they said, and under his rule, the group became more secretive, the wives ever younger, the education of children less academically rigorous, and the “reassignment” of family members more frequent.
This testimony was punctuated by a segment heavy on the perv factor. One of the witnesses testified—more calmly than many in the room probably could have—that when she was Rulon’s wife, Warren discussed a new revelation for a sexual ordinance that would take place in a temple with at least three witnesses present. (Thankfully, the witness left the FLDS before the temple was built.) The prosecution produced two photos of white beds, found in the temple at the Yearning For Zion ranch, in Eldorado, which she described for the jury. One bed, she said, swung down from the wall, with chairs positioned around it “in the same fashion that Warren taught us.” The second photo showed a different bed, one sitting on a pedestal that included a kneeler. “Were these [beds] consistent with the training you received from Warren Jeffs?” the prosecution asked. “Yes, they were consistent,” the witness replied.
After we go back into court tomorrow morning at 10:00, I suspect we’ll see evidence of Warren Jeffs as a manipulative tyrant. I’ll end here with some quotations from Jeffs’ dictations, diaries and lectures. We’ll probably see these sorts of quotations if not these exact passages.
Saturday, April 16, 2005: as the Lord directed me Saturday, in the heavenly session, I was to take XXXX and his daughter XXX…I dropped the girl off and then had XXXX stay in the truck. I informed him that the Lord had told me that his daughter should be sealed to me for time and all eternity, and she is being gathered at this time while it was possible before the enemy could stop this marriage. Then at 9:00 p.m….XXX was sealed for time and all eternity to Warren Steed Jeffs. Witnesses were XXXX and XXXX and XXXX, her father…a handwritten letter authored by XXXX who was 13 years of age to warren stating “I am praying to become a heavenly comfort wife for you.”
August 25, 2005: [performs a bunch of marriages]…I told them that it was the will of the Lord that they go to Canada after they pick up their wives… XXXX received XXXX. She was the youngest girl married that day, age sixteen. The Lord had told me to not have any parents there as they could not keep the Lord’s confidence.
August 25, 2005: I told him about these men that were being brought into trial for marrying so-called underage girls. The ones that were arrested I said, “The general council is to answer the courts nothing. Do not testify in your own trial. If you testify, you could be found a traitor against God and Priesthood.”
February 20, 1998: so I suggest to you, whether you have an experienced or inexperienced husband, be humble. Go and ask him what you should do instead of telling him all you want to do…so I voice this way you should always approach your husband, ladies, realizing he is to be or become God over you.
May 15, 2004: I gave them a training on becoming celestial in nature, and that female emotions were based on wanting earthly blessings without an eternal view…we had an over one hour long training on ‘good feelings’ and that should be on the record…I saw many were still living in bad feelings. Many had been sent back from R17 to Short Creek, and I could see they were feeling down on themselves instead of feeling grateful for the experience.
July 12, 2004: the Lord showed me that my wife XXXX withheld her confession. As I was leaving yesterday, I asked her, ‘Where is your letter?’ And she said she wrote it but didn’t want to give it to me. I asked her why not. I said, ‘Write it quickly,’ and so she wrote me a letter that said nothing except, ‘I want to do better.’ So today I was impressed of the Good Spirit to call her and say, ‘have you had bad feelings’ have you withheld your confession?’ and I saw she was fearful to tell me and she acknowledged she had many bad feelings, so I told her to pack up her things and she would be leaving in an hour to go back to Short Creek. She reacted wrong. She didn’t pray, almost accusing me of not loving her.
August 4, 2011
This morning began with Warren Jeffs saying for about the hundredth time that he needed more time to prepare for a “full defense” for “proper justice” so that people have a “full understanding.” The judge was having none of it.
“Mr. Jeffs, what is it about ‘I’ve denied you a continuance’ that you do not understand? Bring in the jury.”
While Jeffs attempted to finish his second round of examinations with his witness, the prosecution thwarted him at every turn. “Objection, relevance.” “Objection, relevance and ‘asked and answered.’” After about fifteen minutes of asking questions without the satisfaction of an answer, Jeffs just quit talking. Minutes passed and he sat like a kid trying to think up another excuse in the principal’s office. Then, just like that, the filibuster was over.
“I take it by your silence you have passed the witness,” the judge said. The state had no more questions. “Next witness, Mr. Jeffs,” the judge said. But wait—he said, a little stunned, he needed more time. “Denied,” she briskly replied. “Do you have another witness, sir?” After some back and forth, he sat quiet. Finally, the judge stepped on the gas. “Let the record reflect it has been three minutes since the court has instructed Mr. Jeffs repeatedly to produce a witness. Since you have no further witnesses, the court assumes that the defense rests.”
And then the state rested! It felt like someone had prepared us for a day-long journey and then, after thirty minutes, announced, “Ok, we’ve arrived.”
As if the jurors hadn’t been creeped out enough by Jeffs’ monologues, he treated them, during his closing arguments, to the opposite: half an hour of silence during which he briefly stared at each juror with a slight smile on his face. Now, after locking eyes with Jeffs a few days ago when he came into the courtroom, I can tell you that eye contact is not beneficial to his cause. He looks like he could shoot laser beams. Then again, I suppose he could have had dreamboat eyes, and it wouldn’t have made any difference today. About 25 minutes in, he bowed his head and said, “I am at peace.”
The jury must not have bought the martyr defense. After deliberating for about four hours, they found Warren Jeffs guilty of both charges. His eyes were a little bugged out as he exited the room, and his face showed the evidence of a little sweat. Folks in the gallery jumped out of their seats to call their friends.
So now we move on to the penalty phase. The prosecution wants to discuss Warren Jeffs’ own 78 illegal marriages (24 of which involved underage girls), 67 marriages he performed involving underage girls and other men, five hundred bigamous marriages he facilitated and encouraged, six instances of “illegal sexual conduct” involving individuals, more than sixty instances of breaking up three hundred families, expelling young men, and conduct that reveals contempt for “the laws of men.”
In other words: it’s all coming out. Finally.
August 3, 2011
The speculation in the courtroom today was almost as wild as the actual evidence. Some onlookers thought they heard an orgy in yesterday’s recordings, a few reporters thought they heard a girl crying, one woman thought she heard Warren Jeffs tell a woman to “bring [her] legs up.” I didn’t hear any of that, though I had to admit the theories relating to sex were in keeping with Jeffs’ instructions. A few folks in the courtroom floated the question about the defendant’s case: Would he take a swing at it? Naw, surely he wouldn’t. “What would he say?” was the usual response. Well, it turns out, he would say plenty.
Before Jeffs would even have an opportunity to put on his own defense, however, the state had to wrap up the case for the aggravated sexual assault charge. (There are two charges: one sexual assault charge on a fifteen-year-old he impregnated, and an aggravated sexual assault charge on a twelve-year-old.) The jury saw photos of a very cute little girl with ringlets. They saw photos of her leaning against a haystack. They saw photos of her snuggling up to Warren Jeffs’ side, with the top of her head reaching, roughly, to his hip. They saw Jeffs’ dictations that placed the twelve-year-old in Texas at the time of the assault. They saw internal celestial marriage records verifying the twelve-year-old “sealing” to Jeffs. They saw a dated dictation that stated, “and there was sealed [the twelve-year-old] to Warren Steed Jeffs. That’s me!” Later, a different dated dictation stated, “I was impressed to have XXX get the young [twelve-year-old] and she experienced the heavenly session with us and obtained a greater testimony.”
After all the documentation had been presented, the state produced the recording that has caused so much anxiety since its introduction in opening arguments: the audio of Warren Jeffs grunting and panting and mentioning the twelve-year-old by name. Jeffs sat at his table motionless the whole time. Someone behind me started crying.
This evidence was about enough to send any of the jurors over the edge, I think, especially since Jeffs thus far hadn’t challenged the validity of any of the evidence, including the audio. He didn’t seem to question authenticity. Every time he objected—and he did object, regularly—he cited relevance or religious persecution. Neither of those arguments was holding up. As a result of his incompetence, the state was presented with an early Christmas present. They played the explosive audio and rested their case, leaving Jeffs to stand there arguing religious principles like some dotty old man.
When Jeffs announced he was going to call witnesses and present a defense, the jurors, for the first time, showed unmistakable looks of dread. His stand-by counsel ran to the hall to retrieve some items for him and quickly returned with a small stack of books. Someone in my row whispered, “Oh my God, he’s going to read from them.” But we’d have to wait for that. First, he paused for about a minute and a half until the jury grew fidgety. And then finally he began: “In history, recorded on Earth…”
You can imagine how this went over. For the remainder of the day it became clear that his plan was to convert the jury or at least convince them that his actions have a divine benediction. He stayed on course from 3:35 until the end of the day at 8:30.
After his initial opening statement, he actually called a witness. (They said it would never happen.) A current member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints took the witness stand and answered all of Warren Jeffs’ questions, even those that exposed him to incriminating remarks. On cross-examination, the prosecution was relatively gentle and asked if the witness was living in Texas between 2004 and 2006 (he was not) and if he had ever had a group of women come into his room and disrobe (he did not) or have sex with 12- and fifteen-year-old girls (he did not). The state seemed to want to get rid of this guy ASAP. But still. What was the point of Jeffs calling this witness in the first place? I’m sure the witness will be able to go back to the flock and relay the persecution of the prophet—this defense works in Jeffs’ favor from that perspective. It has become clear, however, that he has very little focus on his own criminal case. Maybe he knew it was always a lost cause.
August 2, 2011
Today’s proceedings lasted, with breaks, from 9:15 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. Warren Jeffs’ frequent interruptions are wearing on the jury—not that he cares. He seems to be speaking for his own posterity so that his legend among his people may grow. Why else would he stand up and command, “This sayeth the Lord, cease”?
After so many Rangers testified about the collection and securing of evidence, it was fascinating to begin hearing what exactly was in all those file boxes piled up in front of the courtroom. At 10:00 a.m., we began hearing from Major Nick Hanna, who was co-case agent on the case; he continued until 9:15 at night. Eleven hours, with breaks, may sound like an awful long time to be on the stand, but it went quickly. (Well, maybe not for him). Hanna identified damaging church marriage certificates and personal records, and then he began quoting from Warren Jeffs’ dictations regarding the sexual assault charge with the fifteen-year-old girl. The jury learned that Warren Jeffs married the girl when he was already legally married. They learned, from his writings, that he conceived a child with the girl. They saw photos of the girl pregnant. They saw writings that showed the girl’s father was rewarded with special “training” two days after the girl was married to Jeffs. That was all plenty convincing.
And then the proceedings took a surreal twist. In one of the more notable writings, one of Jeffs’ scribes describes the “brilliant glow” around his face when he is “in a session.” When this narrative was relayed in court, Jeffs went a little nuts. It was almost like he finally considered the possibility that the gentiles might actually get him in trouble.
“I object!” Jeffs said.
“And then you said, (name) give me a hug. You had us turn out the light,” Major Hannah continued.
“Great God of heaven doing this work derided before open court a generation of justice of God shall be fulfilled upon a generation.”
“I went to the closet light to turn it off.”
“She got off you and you told her to give you a hug.”
“This sayeth the Lord, cease!”
“I felt heavenly power…have everyone leave as quickly as they can…have (one) stay…you said to me, ‘you be ready,’ so I quickly got ready for bed for whatever you would need me to do. You told me to have (victim) be ready. I said to her, ‘Warren says to be ready and come to his room.’”
As if that evidence weren’t enough to turn the jurors’ stomachs, they were later presented with an audio tape that was both long and bizarre. For over two hours, on the recording, Jeffs was giving twelve of his “ladies” training (including the fifteen-year-old victim) about how to be a “comfort wife.” Again, Jeffs began protesting. And protesting. And protesting. The judge admonished him repeatedly and, after a while, just ignored him while the audio continued.
“There are quorums of wives in the priesthood—three or five or seven or twelve,” he said on the recording. “Quorums of wives conceive children. This is the ultimate in loving your sisterwives.” He continued, “you have to be able to assist each other and you have to be trained…so listen as the Lord intended all my ladies to be trained.”
There were sounds of—what was that, anyway?—zippers, I think, and then rustling. Something sounded like the motor of a fan or a heater. Jeffs blew his nose several times while he continued talking to the women. At one point, he playfully told them, “Come on out!” He told them to take their clothes off. Then there was something about a tie and a strap. At one point I swear I heard a photocopy machine. As the recording played on, the folks in the courtroom all drew different conclusions. One person asked if others heard spanking. (I didn’t). I asked if anyone else heard a photocopier. (They didn’t).
The prosecution should be able to finish their case tomorrow, and since Warren Jeffs probably won’t present a case in his defense I’m guessing the jury will decide guilt or innocence by tomorrow night. If he does decide to present a case, well, that’ll be interesting, too.
August 1, 2011
Boy, proceedings sure move along when the defendant decides not to cross-examine the witnesses. Friday afternoon I thought this trial might take a month; now I’m wondering if I’ll be checking out of my hotel by the end of the week.
Warren Jeffs’ standby counsel, Deric Walpole, was in the courtroom the whole day but so far the judge hasn’t asked him to take over. I’ve been told that if Jeffs’ outbursts become too disruptive, she can order Walpole back in the driver’s seat, at which point he could choose to recall all the witnesses: law enforcement officials saying again that yes indeed, they did secure that evidence, or take that DNA, and yes it remained in custody. I’m sure everybody realizes this is important, but at one point I saw someone in court actually fall asleep (not a juror).
Still, the day had its dramatic moments. Straight out of the gate, Warren Jeffs produced his third motion to recuse the judge, a motion he was denied. The paperwork was clearly written by him with only a little legal assistance. (I don’t think a lawyer would write “I am now to recuse you from this case.”) The three-and-a-half page single-spaced motion, based on the “Revelation of the Lord Given to President Warren S. Jeffs,” outlined the now-familiar argument that she is persecuting him. An affidavit added that she should “be of a humbling to know I have sent a crippling disease upon her which shall take her life soon.” Adding insult to injury, he misspelled Walther’s name twice as “Walthers.” (He’s not the only one with the problem; my twitter account keeps trying to change her name to “waltzer.”)
Most surprising, perhaps, was how little Jeffs objected during the day’s final testimony, from Rebecca Musser. She spent maybe two and a half hours going over her former role in the church—she was married to Warren’s father, Rulon, when Rulon was the prophet—and the importance of family documents in the FLDS. I thought her testimony would have prompted a series of objections since she was talking in detail about the FLDS teachings, but Jeffs just sat at his table, staring straight ahead. Near the end of the day, at about 7:30, the prosecutor introduced photographs of Warren Jeffs and the two victims. One photo showed Jeffs kissing a small girl on the mouth, an image that will probably stay in the jury’s mind for a long time. Jeffs remained silent.
Since the prosecution seems relatively close to wrapping up, I’m wondering if the temple table will be introduced as evidence. So far it hasn’t been mentioned, but it sure sounds like it would be related to one or both of these cases. The temple document states: “There is a table, but it will be made so it can be a table or it can be a bed. It should be made so the table top can come off. It will be on wheels. It will have a bench that you kneel on that is cushioned and upholstered. When the mattress is in place, this bench will be to the right side of the bed. This will be made so that it can be taken apart and stored in a closet where no one can see it. When I need it, I will pull it out and set it up. It will be made of hardwood that is very strong and that does not rattle when it is shaken…The bed will be a size big enough for me to lay on…It will be covered with a sheet, but it will have a plastic cover to protect the mattress from what will happen on it…the bed will be seven feet long, the table will be nine feet long…and the bed will need some padded sides that can be pulled up that will hold me in place as the Lord does his work with me. At times the table will be out of that room as well as the bed. It must be made so we can push it out and just have chairs in a circle in there. And then at times, the table will be set in place.”
July 29, 2011
After remaining silent most of yesterday afternoon, Warren Jeffs decided today was his day to present his case. The morning was humming along at a rapid pace, with Jeffs remaining silent, until the items from the Yearning For Zion temple were entered into evidence. That’s when Warren Jeffs boomed, “I object!” The jury was stunned. So was everyone else. Jeffs continued, “There is sacred trust drawn by religious leadership…not to be touched by government agencies…this is a standard objection…on the basis of religious freedom and religious practice on constitutional grounds.” This went on and on. And on! (A colleague said he had fifteen minutes of material and stretched it into an hour. It was not unlike Dana Carvey’s Saturday Night Live impression of George H.W. Bush: “A thousand points of light…stay the course…a thousand points of light.” Just replace those words for “this is a sacred trust…government intrusion…an urgent request…immediately stop these proceedings.”)
Jeffs grew very animated, addressing the jury and gesticulating. He was in his element, and he was on a roll. Just as he seemed to flag, he got a second wind. One person near me timed his speech at 55 minutes, another said a good hour and fifteen minutes passed. Either way, the jury started out interested and eventually grew restless while the journalists got writer’s cramp.
When the prosecution addressed his complaints in three succinct points, using previous cases to establish precedent, Jeffs seemed to get agitated. He tried to speak several times—more on the “sacred trust,” more on “the rule of religious freedom”—and the judge shut him down. The security team began walking toward him, and I wondered if he would get thrown out. “If you represent yourself,” the judge said, “you have to follow the rules. One of the rules is you cannot interrupt…” and then she sent everyone out for a lunch break.
But when the jury reconvened, he still wanted the pulpit. “I object to use of religious documents,” he said.
“I have overruled that objection,” the judge responded.
“I cannot sit by and…”
“Please, Mr. Jeffs.”
“I have a statement before sacred trust is…”
“Mr. Jeffs. Mr. Jeffs. Mr. Jeffs. Remove the jury, please.”
While the jury was out, the judge lectured him on his behavior and warned him of the perils of self-representation. Then we all got another surprise: A proclamation from God. He opened a white envelope and read from a paper in a loud voice. “I, the Lord God of heaven call upon the court to now cease this prosecution against my pure holy way. Let it stop now! To continue to be a persecution against my church, I will wrest power from you. I am God overall that speaketh. I shall judge you. I shall let all people know of your unjust way. I shall send a scourge on the counties of prosecutorial zeal to be humbled by sickness and death. Let this cease lest you bring forth an eternal power of judgment upon your own lives.” Here, he put down his paper. “This being instructed by my God.”
Well. How do you follow that? I wouldn’t want to. The prosecution’s lead attorney, Eric Nichols, started with “Your honor…” but he didn’t get very far before Mr. Silent-No-More interrupted. “There is also an additional thought,” he said. (Of course there is!) At this point, the judge said no more outbursts and brought the jury back in for an afternoon filled with—what else?—more outbursts.
All this is making me wonder, What is the weirdest trial in U.S. history? Please email me (email@example.com), tweet at me, or write in the comments section so I have some yard-stick for comparison.
July 28, 2011
I will say this for Warren Jeffs: He is God’s gift to transcribers. This morning, after he fired his legal team and announced his desire to represent himself (oh yes he did), he offered a long explanation with—this grateful journalist might add—extremely long pauses. Remember, this is a man who is used to giving dictation notes day and night, and right now, he has reporters hanging on his every word, grateful for breaks so long they can actually keep up. I’ve taken to timing the pauses much like Bill Zehme did years ago in his interview with Warren Beatty. (What is it with Warrens and their pauses?) The longest, so far, clocked in at 19 seconds. In the middle of a sentence! Here’s an example from my notebook:
“The conditions of present defense is such that I cannot use them they not having all-needed understanding for my defense which writing and representation by one who knows and understands the facts of these [13-second pause] truths that can reveal a true defense involves not having the present counsel be the writers.”
As a colleague pointed out, some of this just flat doesn’t make sense. While a few of us compared notes, an English teacher sitting behind us kept shaking her head. “That is not proper English,” she said. If only sentence construction was the worst of his troubles.
Even though the remainder of the day was taken up with courtroom testimony regarding confiscation of evidence, there seemed to be no limits to the oddities ahead. At this point I can only think of a few things that would up the ante: if his wives testified, and if he cross-examined himself. Although, as one bystander pointed out, the heavens could open up, and a staircase could descend that takes him straight into heaven body and soul. That would be unexpected.
July 27, 2011
Having just recently arrived out in San Angelo for the Warren Jeffs sexual assault trial, I’m still getting my bearings. No electronics in the courtroom. Parking is tough. One street is blocked off just to the side of the courthouse where Warren Jeffs is escorted in and out. Lots of room to roam about in the court today—I counted 35 people at one point, not including the lawyers before the judge.
I haven’t been back to San Angelo in awhile and, to be honest, never spent that much time in the courthouse. I’ve been following the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) from afar for couple of years now, with an interest dating back to an article I wrote back in 2009 on the Yearning For Zion raid and the aftermath. With some distance from the 2008 raid of the YFZ, and the last of Child Protective Services’ child cases coming to a close, the lawyers were able to vent freely, and the YFZ residents—including one of Warren Jeffs’ young brides—offered whatever opinions they could about the criminal trials of FLDS men, mostly that “truth will prevail.” As I take my seat in court, I find myself scanning the courtroom for all those familiar faces. Hey, there’s Kathy Mankin from the Eldorado Success! I wonder if Willie Jessop will show up? Are those guys with the severe hair parts FLDS? (Answer: yes.)
Thus far, the lawyers have been arguing about continuances and motions to suppress evidence. On Tuesday night around 8:00 p.m., the jury was selected from a group of 200-some San Angelo voters. This afternoon, the judge, Barbara Walther, said she wants to deal with one more evidence issue tomorrow morning and then dive right into opening arguments. The defense team is begging for more time, and who could blame them. They hit a real obstacle when their client fired his lead trial attorney, Jeff Kearney, just weeks before jury selection. The judge ordered Kearney to stay on the team, but he was nowhere to be seen in the courtroom today: Jeffs ordered him to stop speaking to his new lawyer, Deric Walpole, and maybe Jeffs told him to stay away altogether. Ay, ay, ay. Worse for them, the judge seems to want to move quickly. Personally, I feel like somebody spun me around and shoved me out the door; I can’t imagine what it’s like for the players on the field.
From what I gather so far, Jeffs’ attorneys are going to claim religious persecution since their best hope—suppression of evidence—was dashed today. That leaves the defense in a crouch position while the prosecution goes to work. Out of all the 1.7 billion pages of documents seized at the YFZ ranch back in 2008, I think a few pieces of evidence are going to be key: 1) internal marriage records 2) wedding photos of Warren kissing two young girls on the lips 3) DNA evidence linking—I think—the victims and Jeffs to their children 4) Warren Jeffs’ own transcribed lectures, meetings, and dictations showing that he knowingly and willingly broke the law. The writings may prove to be the most interesting since they offer rare insight into Warren’s mindset. These days, he’s probably regretting his compulsive attention to detail. I don’t know which dictations will be allowed into court, but I’ll leave you with a few choice examples from my own stack in reverse chronological order:
July 27, 2006: I wrote a letter to Brother Wendell Nielsen and told him to bring his daughter XXXX and his wife XXXX over at 8:30 p.m. and his daughter XXXX would be sealed to Leroy Jessop…And there were three sealings performed…then we brought in XXX’s wife XXX, and his daughter [a 12-year-old girl]. I delegated Merril Jessop to perform the sealing. And there was sealed XXXX to Warren Steed Jeffs. That’s me!…After the First Presidency left, I escorted my new wife XXXX among the family and had them meet her. Then I had her listen to some training from me and from XXXX and XXXX on how to be a heavenly wife…I did gather my daughter XXXX and her mother XXXX in this afternoon and gave her a training on how to be a heavenly wife, and to get close to her husband…the day of choosing is taking place. Our time is short. My ladies must get close fast and stay close; the same with my children.
August 25, 2005: I told him about these men that were being brought into trial for marrying so-called underage girls. The ones that were arrested I said, “The general council is to answer the courts nothing. Do not testify in your own trial. If you testify, you could be found a traitor against God and Priesthood.”
November 21, 1997: FLDS Home Economics Class: You don’t have to worry about ‘which man,’ or ‘do they like you,’ or all the silliness that goes in with the world’s way of marriage. All you have to do is prepare yourself through obedience to your father, keeping, learning the Holy Spirit, and then placing your life in the hands of the Prophet and let the Lord reveal the man that you belong to…Be careful what you say. If you say, I don’t want plurality—the Prophet’s going to hear it. You want to be careful…[page 4 of 8] Do you get that? “your own free will and choice.” You choose to do this. Suppose the Prophet says, “this is who I want you to marry.’ Does that mean you have no choice? Well you can say yes, or no. but before he ever tells you who to marry, it is because you chose to come to him and place your life in his hands. So, you did choose. There is no force in this celestial law. The prophet doesn’t force you to heaven…The Prophet has the key of revelation. He knows the hearts of men better than any woman does. Trust in him.