Jailed polygamist leader sedated, responsive in Texas hospital

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 30, 2011 2:54 PM
Jailed polygamist leader sedated, responsive in Texas hospital

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was under sedation but still conscious in an east Texas hospital on Tuesday, prison officials said.

Authorities rejected widely reported rumors that Jeffs, who is being treated for dehydration and other undisclosed health issues, was in a medically induced coma.

"He is somewhat sedated but remains responsive at this time," Jason Clark of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice told Reuters on Tuesday.

The 55-year-old Jeffs, serving life in prison for sexually assaulting two underage girls, was rushed from his prison cell to the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler on Sunday night after prison officials became worried about his condition.

Clark said Jeffs had been fasting but was not on a hunger strike.

However, Clark said: "There does come a time if a person goes on a hunger strike, and refuses to eat, that medical staff can make the decision that he has to eat."

Jeffs is the self-named "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist Mormon breakaway sect that has a ranch in west Texas.

He was sentenced on August 9 for assaulting two girls he had taken as "spiritual wives" at the sect's Yearning for Zion compound near San Angelo, Texas.

Jeffs had commissary items in his cell and had been eating and drinking some, but his limited intake of food conflicted with other medical conditions, Clark said.

He said he couldn't elaborate on Jeffs' preexisting conditions due to privacy rules.

Jeffs has declined to eat at other times when he has been incarcerated, and prison officials were forced to seek medical treatment.

At one point officials in Arizona force-fed Jeffs when he refused to eat. In a prison in Utah, officials ordered Jeffs hospitalized for dehydration after he refused to eat.

Clark said Tuesday he didn't know how long Jeffs will remain in the hospital.

Jeffs is serving his sentence in the high security Powledge Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Palestine, Texas.

Due to the nature of his crimes, he is in protective isolation -- one of just a handful of inmates in the 150,000 convict Texas prison system to be selected for that type of custody to protect them from other inmates.

His unit is not air conditioned, and officials said they did not know if that contributed to his health issues.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Jerry Norton)