Warren Jeffs

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Warren Jeffs is the leader and self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and the owner of the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas. He was sentenced to prison in 2007 for abuse of underage girls. His father, Rulon Jeffs, was the President of the FLDS Church until his death in 2002. Shortly after his death, Warren Jeffs—one of his many sons—asserted his own leadership of the FLDS Church and subsequently married all but two of his father's widows, reinforcing his position of leadership and power in the community.

Jeffs formally resigned as president of the FLDS Church effective November 20, 2007. In an email to the Deseret Morning News, Jeffs' attorneys stated: "Mr. Jeffs has asked that the following statement be released to the media and to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. . . . Mr. Jeffs resigned as President of the Corporation of the President of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc." The statement does not address his ecclesiastical position as prophet of the FLDS Church. There are also reports that Jeffs admitted his position of prophet in the FLDS Church was a usurpation in a conversation to his brother, and declared that "Brother William E. Jessop has been the prophet since [my] Father's passing", though Jeffs' attorneys have claimed he misspoke. In early 2011, Jeffs retook legal control of the denomination.[1]

Many in the FLDS communities still regard Jeffs as the prophet and their current leader. Many are leaving the church.[2] [3]

News accounts have suggested that Merril Jessop, who has been leading the Eldorado compound, is the de facto leader of the church. On January 9, 2010, documents filed with the Utah Department of Commerce named Wendell L. Nielsen as the president of the sect. Traditionally the president of the FLDS church was also the religious head, but the FLDS incorporation charter does not require the church president to be its prophet. A 2012 CNN documentary insisted that Jeffs still leads the church from prison.

Fast Facts

Warren Jeffs
  1. Born: December 3, 1955
  2. Official Title: President and Prophet, Seer and Revelator
  3. May 2006: Added to FBI's Ten Most Wanted List
  4. Arrested: August 28, 2006
  5. April 4, 2008: The Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas was searched after a complaint was made to state child welfare investigators
  6. All children were removed from the ranch, but all but one were later returned
  7. About 12 men at the ranch faced charges including bigamy and violations against underage girls due to the evidence found during the raid
  8. In August 2011, Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison, plus 20 years for sexually assaulting two underage girls he claimed as his spiritual wives. He will have to spend at least 45 years in prison before being eligible for release


The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FDLS)

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints broke off from the main body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church, now over 15 million members strong, when polygamy ended in 1890. The FLDS believed that God still sanctioned polygamy and broke off to keep practicing it. The FLDS Church has about 10,000 members in the United States.

Members of the FLDS Church call themselves "Mormons," but they have no affiliation with the Mormon Church. The legitimate Mormon Church, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has denounced the polygamous sects and excommunicates members who attempt to practice polygamy. Polygamous sects have ended up in the thrall of powerful leaders who vie for leadership and power and exercise iron-fisted control over their followers. This coercion is opposite to the way God leads true religion, guaranteeing agency and the verification of faith through personal revelation to all. The power won by leaders in these sects has opened the door to abuse of power and authority.

Fugitive

In May of 2006, Jeffs was added to the FBI's Most Wanted List. Jeffs fled to avoid prosecution in a case in Utah where he was accused of arranging the marriages between his adult male followers and young girls.

Charges

Jeffs was arrested in August of 2006 in Nevada. He agreed to go back to Utah and face his charges. Arizona also charged him with eight additional counts in two separate cases in May and July of 2007. The charges included various gross violations against laws of the land regarding sexual conduct.

Members of the FLDS church and the Yearning for Zion Ranch filed motions in March 2009 seeking to seal the abuse investigation of a 17-year-old girl. They also requested that any evidence seized during the raid and investigation be returned. Jeffs' attorneys are claiming that the allegation of abuse made by Rozita Swinton were false. The abuse claims made by Swinton led to the search and seizure of Zion Ranch, but the raid was inconclusive, not finding evidence of abuse.

The ranch came into the public eye when Texas authorities took legal custody of 416 children on April 7, 2008, when a 16-year-old girl reportedly phoned to report abuse. The girl in the report claimed to have said that she was married to a 50-year-old man and had, at age 15, given birth to his child. However, residents told authorities that there was in fact no such girl; the calls were ultimately traced to a woman totally unconnected to the FLDS Church, Rozita Swinton, and known for repeated instances of filing false reports. Nevertheless, Texas authorities continued to investigate whether it was a hoax. The children and women who were suspected of being minors were returned after Texas courts established that the state had not presented sufficient evidence of abuse to have removed all of the women and children.

Indictment

On July 22, 2008, Jeffs and five other men were indicted on charges related to a gross violation of the Law of Chastity. Jeffs was indicted by a Texas grand jury on a charge of violation of a child. The indictment proceedings followed the child custody case of more than 400 children taken away from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Texas.

Trials and Sentences

The Warren Jeffs trial in St. George, Utah, began in September 2007. The trial lasted less than a month. On September 25, Jeffs was convicted of two counts of accomplice to rape, sentencing him to two consecutive sentences of five years to life. Jeffs stood trial and was convicted in Utah for his role in allegedly arranging marriages among his followers. He was found guilty, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. In a unanimous decision, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that a state judge had erred when he failed to tell the jury that Mr. Jeffs could not be found guilty unless he specifically intended for the girl’s husband to have nonconsensual sex with her, which Mr. Jeffs denied.

On July 28, 2011, a Texas jury found Jeffs guilty of sexually assaulting two girls he had taken as "spiritual wives." DNA samples proved that one of the girls, aged 15, had a child by Jeffs, and there was audio tape presented as evidence of Jeffs' advances toward a 12-year-old girl. Jeffs faced a sentence of up to life in prison (119 years if found guilty on all counts). "Texas prosecutors said at the sentencing phase they would present evidence that Jeffs had 78 wives in addition to his legal spouse. They said 24 of those were under 17." [4]

The prosecution produced evidence that Jeffs used the compound's temple for sex with young girls under the guise of religion, and claimed that the judiciary had to save a religion and a people from Jeffs' corrupt leadership. Prosecutors also showed evidence that Jeffs has 78 plural wives, including 12 girls married at age 16 and another 12 who were 15 or younger.

Jeffs appeared before a federal court in San Angelo, Texas, in July 2011. Jeffs was appearing in his own defense and made a motion to dismiss a "bishop's list," as evidence. The list was gathered as evidence in the raid, and therefore might not be admissable. The list purportedly contains the names of male members of the sect and their wives. The sect is accused of promoting marriages between older men and girls, and has been condemned by the mainstream Mormon Church. It appears that the sect considers it mandatory for a man to have at least three wives to earn exaltation in heaven. Jeffs lost his composure during one session, and the outburst and subsequent interruptions of other attorneys in the case led State District Judge Barbara Walther to dismiss the jurors and adjourn the court session. He accused the U.S. legal system of persecuting a peaceful, God-fearing people.

The Texas jury sentenced Jeffs to life in prison for aggravated sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl and 20 years in prison for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl. He must serve at least 35 years of the life sentence and half of the other sentence, Strickland said. The judge in the case ordered that the sentences be served consecutively. The Texas case against Jeffs stemmed from documents recovered in an April 2008 raid on the FLDS compound near Eldorado, Texas. Prosecutors also introduced evidence seized from a vehicle when Jeffs was arrested as a fugitive in 2006. Jeffs is incarcerated at the Louis C. Powledge Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice near Palestine, Texas.

"Eleven other FLDS men were charged with crimes including sexual assault and bigamy. All seven of those who have been prosecuted were convicted, receiving prison sentences of between six and 75 years."

Updates

Jeffs has engaged in lengthy hunger strikes, which his doctors and attorneys have claimed were for spiritual reasons. In August 2009, Superior Court Judge Steve Conn ordered that Jeffs be force fed. Thereafter, Jeffs was fed through a stomach feeding tube. On August 29, 2011, Jeffs was taken to East Texas Medical Center, Tyler, Texas, and hospitalized in critical condition under a medically induced coma after excessive fasting. Officials were not sure how long he would remain hospitalized, but expected Jeffs to live.

In August 2011, the Christian Post reported that some of Jeffs' followers have decided to erect a three-story tall statue of Jeffs in the Yearning for Zion compound. The article was very careful to explain that the FLDS have nothing to do with the mainstream Mormon Church. [5]

In December 2012, Jeffs predicted that the world would end before the year 2013 and called for his followers to prepare for the end.

External Sources