Warren Jeffs wife breaks away from Arizona compound

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 13, 2011 11:24 PM
Warren Jeffs wife breaks away from Arizona compound

By James Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - One of the wives of Warren Jeffs has broken away from the private Arizona compound once ruled by the jailed polygamist leader, officials said on Thursday.

The 25-year-old woman, whose name was not released, left the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints compound on the Utah-Arizona border on Monday with the help of law enforcement, a Washington County, Utah sheriff's detective told Reuters.

"A 25-year-old female reportedly left a residence in Colorado City, Arizona, and arrived at another residence in Hilldale, Utah. She asked for assistance," detective Nate Abbott said.

"Our deputies responded and facilitated that request. She was able to peacefully leave the area," he added.

Jeffs, the 55-year-old spiritual leader of a breakaway Mormon sect, is serving a life prison term in Texas after being convicted of sexual assaulting two girls he wed as spiritual brides when they were 12 and 14 years old.

His polygamist sect, which experts estimate has 10,000 followers in North America, has been condemned by the mainstream Mormon Church and is accused of promoting marriages between older men and girls.

The woman who left the sect's compound this week was in police custody just long enough to allow her to leave the community and get shelter, Abbott said.

He declined to say where the woman had been staying since she left the compound on the Utah-Arizona border, accompanied by sheriff's deputies. But he said she was able to "go to a place of refuge".

The Colorado City compound, which Jeffs presided over prior to his arrest in August 2006, has about 5,000 residents, largely secluded from the outside world.

Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said he was not sure if criminal charges will be filed in the case.

"It all depends upon what she wants to do. She's an adult and we have to respect her choices. Right now we don't know what she will say or do that could possibly lead to charges," Belnap said, adding that Utah officials were not sure how many of Jeffs' wives were in Utah or the area.

Isaac Wyler, a former FLDS member who still lives in Colorado City, said he hoped the woman does not return to the polygamist community.

"My feeling is I'm darn glad she got away. Apparently this is the second time she tried. I'm really glad she is successful," he said.

"What ends up happening is when you come out of this cult you are so brainwashed that you are going to blood atone for your sins of running and things like that. And they put so much pressure on you to come back or you are going to burn eternally," Wyler told Reuters.

Utah State Attorney General's spokesman Paul Murphy said he did not know the woman's exact circumstances.

"I don't know whether there has been any abuse or why she is leaving, but there are plenty of groups out there that have made themselves available and offer transition and shelter and help that is needed," he said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)