SAN ANGELO (AP) – A West Texas court on Wednesday refused to rule on a request by polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs to delay his sexual assault trial so he could have more time to find an in-state attorney.
The 55-year-old head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints asked that his Jan. 24 trial date be pushed back, but District Judge Barbara Walther said Jeffs had been given plenty of advance warning that his trial was approaching.
Jeffs made headlines nationwide after a 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, a remote town south of San Angelo, where authorities seized more than 400 children and placed them in state custody. Officials suspect the girls were being sexually abused and that the boys were being raised to be sexual predators.
Most of the children were eventually returned to their families, but seven men in the sect who see Jeffs as their spiritual leader were charged and eventually convicted of child sexual assault and abuse.
Jeffs was convicted in Utah in a case stemming from the marriage of an underage girl to her cousin, but that conviction was overturned in 2007. Jeffs was extradited to Texas from Utah a week ago, and authorities here have charged him with felony bigamy, aggravated sexual assault and assault. He is being held without bail and is expected to face the sexual assault charge first. The other charges will be addressed in subsequent trials.
Jeffs, who was indicted more than two years ago, has so far been represented by Richard Wright, a prominent Las Vegas attorney. Wright told the court Wednesday that he has represented Jeffs for four years in Utah and Arizona, but that he can’t in Texas.
Wright said he has been helping locate a new lawyer but that many have declined because the trial is scheduled to start in only about six weeks. He said he has tried to reassure them that the trial would be pushed back by at least two weeks.
But Walther said the initial trial date is realistic, at least for now.
“This is not exactly a surprise Mr. Jeffs is here,” she said, noting that extradition proceedings began in June.
“You should understand these dates are not tentative dates and you should be prepared to (go to) trial,” Walther said.
State prosecutors said they wouldn’t object to delaying the start of the trial, but that they would have to discuss such motions with a lawyer handling the case for him.
Wright, a folksy former federal prosecutor, did not comment beyond what was said in court. Willie Jessop, a spokesman for Jeffs’ church, did not answer calls for comment.
Wright has been involved in some of the biggest legal cases in recent Nevada history, including winning acquittal for the champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. after he was charged with hitting his former girlfriend during a 2003 argument.
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