Judge says evidence from FLDS raid can be used against Jeffs
San Angelo, Texas • District Judge Barbara Walther on Wednesday ruled against polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs, who sought to suppress evidence seized three years ago during a massive raid at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ranch in Eldorado, Texas.
Walther said she will hear arguments on Thursday as to whether jurors can hear about a cache of evidence seized when Jeffs was arrested in Nevada in 2006 while riding in a Cadillac Escalade with a brother and favorite wife.
Opening statements to a jury of 10 women and two men are expected to begin Thursday, following discussion of the Escalade evidence.
In the vehicle, police found wigs, 14 cellphones, and nearly $68,000 in hundred dollar bills. Prosecutor Eric Nichols also said there were audio recordings and a duffel bag filled with letters addressed to Jeffs.
Nichols and defense attorney Robert Udashen are expected to argue the legality of the Aug. 28, 2006, traffic stop that resulted in Jeffs' arrest.
As for the search warrant used by Texas rangers to enter the Yearning For Zion Ranch in 2008, Udashen argued it as illegal because it was based on a hoax call for help from a woman pretending to be an abused, underage plural wife.
Udashen claimed that rangers "recklessly" omitted from the search warrant affidavit that the caller ID came up "unknown" an indication the caller was not who she said she was.
But instead of investigating further, the rangers obtained a search warrant by presenting the court with a flawed affidavit, Udashen claimed.
"They did not tell the court the whole story, and they misled the court," Udashen argued, adding that officials should "do some investigation to show a call is real before they launch an invasion of a whole community."
More than 400 children were taken into protective custody during the raid, though they were later returned to their parents. Police seized the equivalent of 1.7 billion pages of evidence.
Nichols insisted Wednesday the defense had not raised enough of a question regarding the search warrant to hold a full-blown evidence suppression hearing. Nichols also claimed that rangers acted in good faith in obtaining the search warrant.
If the defense had been successful in suppressing evidence from the ranch raid, it could have decimated the prosecution's case.
Walther had also denied a similar defense motion regarding the search warrant during a four-day hearing in 2009 for 11 other FLDS men charged with crimes including sexual assault and bigamy.
Meanwhile, a jury of 10 women and two men was chosen Tuesday evening to decide Jeffs' fate.
Opening statements in the trial are expected after the suppression issues are decided.
Jeffs, 55, is facing charges of sexual assault of a child in two alleged plural marriages, one to a girl younger than 17 and the other to a 12-year-old. A conviction could put him in prison for life.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has declined to comment on whether Jeffs fathered children with his two alleged sexual assault victims. Abbott also has declined to comment on whether either girl would testify. Both alleged victims have been subpoenaed, along with 76 other women from the ranch, but no active member of the sect has testified in previous FLDS trials.
The defense has yet to file a change-of-venue motion asking to move Jeffs' trial out of San Angelo to a jurisdiction where the case is less well-known.
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