SAN ANGELO (AP) – Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs made a third attempt Monday to remove the Texas judge overseeing his child sex assault case — this time based on the claim that God himself demands a change.
The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints filed a motion purporting to quote God as saying state District Judge Barbara Walther should “step away from this abuse of power against a religious and pure faith in the Lord.”
After a short recess, Walther ruled the trial would continue under new Texas Supreme Court rules that went into effect Monday. They no longer require an immediate hearing to recuse a judge after evidence in a case has been heard. A hearing will eventually be held on Jeffs’ motion, but it’s unclear when.
The trial continued with forensic analyst Amy Smuts, of the Human Identification Center at the University of North Texas in Fort Worth, testifying that a DNA sample collected from Jeffs had 15 major markers that matched a DNA sample taken from a girl born to a 15-year-old mother.
Smuts said that made her more than 99.99 percent certain that Jeffs was the child’s father.
Jeffs is accused of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, he took as brides in so-called “spiritual marriages.” His church is an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that believes polygamy brings exaltation in Heaven, and followers see Jeffs as God’s earthly spokesman.
The 55-year-old fired his attorneys last week and has been representing himself. He gave a speech defending polygamy Friday, then read a statement he said was from God. It promised “sickness and death” for all involved unless the case was halted immediately.
The charges against Jeffs stem from a massive police raid in April 2008 at Yearning For Zion, a church compound about 45 miles south of the oil and gas town of San Angelo.
Authorities moved in after receiving an anonymous call to an abuse shelter, alleging that girls on the compound were being forced into polygamist marriages. The call turned out to be a hoax, made by a woman in Colorado, and more than 400 children who had been placed in state custody were returned to their families.
But police saw underage girls at the compound who were clearly pregnant — prompting the charges against Jeffs and 11 other FLDS men. All seven sect members who have been prosecuted so far were convicted of crimes including sexual assault and bigamy and received prison sentences of between six and 75 years.
Jeffs has repeatedly called the raid an illegal search and wants a separate hearing on whether authorities violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion. Walther, who has already ruled several times on the constitutionality of the raid, has refused to stop the trial for such a hearing.
The filling Jeffs submitted Monday marked the third time he has tried to recuse Walther. During his first two motions, he was represented by attorneys who argued on his behalf. His latest motion, however, was based on a revelation Jeffs said the Lord gave him Sunday and addressed Walther directly, saying, “I, your lord, say to you, I shall bring to light your evil intent now, before all people, to destroy my Church on earth.”
It ordered her to, “now sign order to rescues thyself.”
The motion included an appendix Jeffs said was a revelation from God to early Mormon church leader Joseph Smith Jr., dated July 12, 1843. Jeffs also attached what he called “Exhibit A,” consisting of 29 orders from the Lord, including one in which God sent “a crippling disease upon (Walther) which shall take her life soon.”
Walther contracted polio when she was younger and walks with a limp.
The motion also referenced the Biblical revenge threats Jeffs made Friday, saying to Walther, “even when I had my Mouthpeice voice my warning of my own word . . . this you did not consider.”
Jeffs went through seven attorneys in the six months leading up to the trial, firing his last defense team just as opening statements were to begin. He refused to give an opening statement and initially sat silently while prosecutors presented their case. But he changed course with Friday’s hourlong defense of polygamy, and ever since, when prosecutors enter a new item into evidence, he stands and objects that his religious freedoms are being trampled.
“This proceeding is unjust and against an innocent people being derided by the public,” Jeff said Monday. “There is taking place an action that cannot be undone.”
Prosecutors usually ignore his objections, and let Walther overrule them. But lead prosecutor Eric Nichols finally responded, “this is not a proceeding against a people. This is a proceeding against an individual named Warren Steed Jeffs.”
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