Jailed polygamist leader's condition upgraded to serious

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 31, 2011 11:33 AM
Jailed polygamist leader's condition upgraded to serious

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The condition of jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, serving a life sentence for raping two child brides, has been upgraded from critical to serious in a Texas hospital, prison officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Jeffs, 55, had been rushed to hospital on Sunday and is being treated for dehydration and other undisclosed health issues.

He is "awake and alert," prison spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.

Jeffs is being treated at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where the state has a secure prison hospital facility. Jeffs had been fasting in prison and wasn't eating or drinking enough, prison officials said.

He was in critical but stable condition when he was transferred from an east Texas hospital to the facility in Galveston on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, his condition had been upgraded to serious.

Jeffs, convicted earlier this month of sexually assaulting two girls he wed as spiritual brides when they were 12 and 14, was rushed to hospital from his prison cell on Sunday night after prison officials became worried about his condition.

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

Lyons didn't say how long Jeffs will remain at the hospital.

"That will depend on his recovery," she said. "When offenders become ill and need to be hospitalized, this is the standard procedure. We have some 155,000 inmates around the state, and sometimes they require care beyond what we can offer at the facility."

TO REMAIN IN PRISON SETTING

Lyons has said Jeffs would remain in a "prison setting" under guard by corrections personnel because it is a state prison hospital. "It's a secure setting. It is like he is in a cell, it is just within a hospital."

Jeffs is the self-named prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist breakaway Mormon sect that has a ranch in west Texas, the Yearning for Zion compound near San Angelo.

Jeffs had commissary items in his cell and had been eating and drinking some before he fell ill, 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, and officials in a Utah prison ordered him hospitalized for dehydration after he refused to eat.

Clark said on 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)