Polygamist sect leader fires lawyers in trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 28, 2011 1:29 PM
Polygamist sect leader fires lawyers in trial

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs threw his sexual assault trial into disarray on Thursday when he fired all of his defense lawyers and demanded the right to represent himself.

"My counsel doesn't have the full understanding of the facts and are unable to assist in my defense," Jeffs, 55, told the court in a slow, halting voice. "I have trained my defense, but they were unable to do what I said. I am presenting the need for true justice to be presented, and for the truth to come out."

State District Judge Barbara Walther recessed the hearing in San Angelo, Texas so she could consider Jeffs' demand.

Jeffs is charged with child sexual assault and aggravated child sexual assault in connection with his "spiritual marriages" to a 12-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in remote west Texas. Jeffs founded the ranch in 2003 as an outpost for his breakaway Mormon sect.

Assistant Texas Attorney General Eric Nichols, who is prosecuting Jeffs, did not object to Jeffs representing himself, but said he wanted the self-proclaimed "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be apprised of the potential hazards of self-representation.

Jeffs appeared for what was scheduled to be opening arguments in his trial.

There were no signs of any sect members or supporters of Jeffs in the half-full courtroom.

Jeffs has repeatedly hired and fired attorneys in what prosecutors said is an attempt to delay his trial on charges that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.

Before being fired by Jeffs, defense attorneys worked to exclude evidence seized when Jeffs was arrested in Nevada in 2007, as well as items seized from the ranch in a highly publicized raid by Texas Rangers in 2008.

Defense lawyers said those items, including a list of adult male members of the sect, detailing their numerous wives, and a photograph of a grinning Jeffs kissing one of his brides, shouldn't be used because the raid was prompted by a false report to a San Angelo domestic violence hotline. The raid resulted in hundreds of children being temporarily removed from the compound.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Greg McCune)