Warren Jeffs breaks silence in court to defend polygamy

Warren Jeffs
AP Photo, file
Texas town braces for Polygamist leader's trial
Warren Jeffs
AP Photo, file

(CBS/AP) SAN ANGELO, Texas - Warren Jeffs' sexual assault trial got off to a frenzied start Thursday, largely because the polygamist sect leader insisted on representing himself, then sitting mute and seemingly oblivious to everything going on in the court around him. On Friday, however, Jeffs launched into a defense of polygamy.

After Jeffs declined to make an opening statement, prosecutors sped through their case on the trial's first day, calling five witnesses. They also told jurors they have an audio recording of the 55-year-old defendant raping a 12-year-old girl and DNA evidence showing he impregnated a 15-year-old.

But the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints broke his silence Friday by objecting to an FBI FBI agent's testimony about records seized at his church's compound during a 2008 raid. Jeffs then talked for nearly an hour.

Jeffs said his church has practiced five generations of polygamy as ordered by God, a higher power than U.S. courts.

Jeffs ended by saying "amen," then repeatedly interrupted a prosecutor's response.

Judge Barbara Walther ordered Jeffs to follow legal procedure, then dismissed the jury and called a recess.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that believes polygamy is the key to exaltation in heaven. Followers see him as a prophet who can speak for God on Earth.

Jeffs dismissed his high-powered defense team Thursday and asked U.S. District Judge Barbara Walther that he be allowed to represent himself and to have more time to prepare his case. He addressed the court for 25 minutes, rambling on about the fact that his attorneys could not present a "pure defense."

Walther was wary, saying, "you have assembled one of the most impressive legal teams this court has ever seen and perhaps ever seen in the state of Texas...I urge you not to follow this course of action."

Jeffs has burned through at least seven attorneys since December. Walther said Thursday that "your request for additional time can only be considered as an attempt to further delay these proceedings and manipulate this court."

"Mr. Jeffs, the court is not going to recess these proceedings to let you go to law school," she said.

Walther allowed Jeffs to represent himself but insisted on the trial moving forward. Jeffs responded saying, "I feel this is an injustice being performed."

Jeffs is charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child and could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

The charges against him stem from a massive police raid in April 2008 at Yearning For Zion, a sect compound about 45 miles south of the oil and gas town of San Angelo, where Jeffs' trial is taking place. More than 400 children were placed in protective custody.

Eleven other FLDS men were charged. All seven sect members who have been prosecuted so far were conviceted of crimes including sexual assault and bigamy, receiving prison sentenced of between six and 75 years.

Complete coverage of Warren Jeffs on Crimesider