Jeffs tells jury of Mormon history, religious persecution
San Angelo, Texas • After prosecutors rested their case against Warren Jeffs on Wednesday by playing an audiotape of an alleged sex assault on a 12-year-old girl, Jeffs began his defense by telling jurors about Mormon history and scripture.
The polygamous-sect leader followed up by calling one of his followers as a witness and questioning him for more than four hours about the beliefs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The trial adjourned for the night at about 8:30 p.m. Texas time, and will resume Thursday morning.
The 55-year-old church prophet accused of having sex with two girls he took as plural wives gave a 30-minute opening statement that was essentially a survey of the history of Christianity, Mormons, the United States and the FLDS Church.
Jeffs never mentioned sex, marriage to underage girls, or any other evidence presented by prosecutors not even to proclaim his innocence.
Jeffs who is acting as his own attorney then called FLDS member J.D. Roundy to the witness stand and asked him to read selections from Mormon scripture and the writings of church founder Joseph Smith. The topics included the "everlasting covenant" of plural marriage, and the idea of a living prophet who is the voice of God.
"How many can hold this authority?" asked Jeffs, who is considered a prophet by the 10,000 or so members of the FLDS church. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
"One at a time can, on this Earth" can be the prophet, Roundy said. The ruddy, pleasant-mannered former school teacher testified about his own faith in the FLDS Church's beliefs and read from books of Mormon teachings and scriptures that Jeffs entered into evidence.
Prosecutor Eric Nichols objected several times, saying that neither man's religious beliefs were relevant to the sexual assault charges.
"This is not the trial of [Mormon Church founder] Joseph Smith, it's the trial of Warren Steed Jeffs," Nichols said.
Judge Barbara Walther let Jeffs continue, but admonished him to stay on topic.
"I don't believe the pursuit of your defense should be trying to lecture or teach the jury about your religion," she said. For their part, some jurors appeared impatient as the religious testimony continued.
Later, when Jeffs' began repeating himself, Walther declared his questioning of Roundy finished.
Under cross examination, Roundy told Nichols he did not know what happened on the FLDS's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, during the years the two alleged victims were there. Roundy also said he had never used his religion as a means to have sex with a 12- or 15-year-old girl.
When Jeffs began re-questioning Roundy, the pace slowed as Jeffs began pausing for up to a minute between queries.
And as Jeffs continued asking about FLDS beliefs, Nichols kept objecting.
The questioning turned comical as Roundy began delaying his answers, anticipating Nichols to object. Jeffs appeared to be the only person in the courtroom who did not laugh at some point.
Roundy testified with his own attorney sitting at his side. Every time Jeffs asked Roundy a question about the FLDS views on plural marriage, Roundy consulted with lawyer before answering.
When Roundy had been on the witness stand for 4Â½ hours, and Walther was about to declare the examination complete, Jeffs asked for a continuation to think of acceptable questions. Walther told Roundy to return to court in the morning.
Earlier on day 8 of the trial, the jury of 10 women and two men heard an audio recording of Jeffs allegedly having sex with the 12-year-old girl he is accused of taking as a wife with two other wives present, and possibly participating.
Jeffs is heard panting and breathing heavily throughout the 21-minute tape recording. And while it was difficult to hear some portions due to background noise, a girl's voice occasionally can be heard and Jeffs twice refers to the alleged victim by name.
The girl is not heard resisting, and there are no overt references to sex.
But prosecutors had earlier presented testimony that certain phrases heard on the tape are used by Jeffs and his followers to refer to sex, including "heavenly comfort" and "heavenly sessions."
Just before the tape ends, Jeffs is heard saying, "In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."
And three female voices are heard replying, "Amen."
The recording was apparently made inside the soaring white temple located at the polygamous sect's YFZ Ranch, according to other records presented by the prosecution.
Jurors had been stoic throughout trial, but while listening to the recording of Jeffs with the 12-year-old, at least four were seen putting their hands over their mouths.
Prosecutors said the recording was made in August 2006, just days before Jeffs was arrested in Nevada as one of the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives. The tape was supposed to become part of the FLDS's meticulous record-keeping system, which includes noting when blessings are bestowed upon followers, but was seized when Jeffs was arrested, according to testimony from Texas Ranger Nick Hanna.
Police found a copy of the recording when they executed a massive police raid on the ranch in 2008. More than 400 children were taken into protective custody during that raid, but later returned to their parents.
During his opening statement, Jeffs referenced that raid, and another from 1953 in Short Creek, a town on the border of Arizona and Utah.
"Two times in our history, families carried away with the government, intent to break up families because of prejudiced beliefs," Jeffs told the jury.
He had begun his remarks by saying, "In the history of Earth reported by men, religion has been all important in the way of life among peoples and nations."
He touched on religious persecution in Europe, the discovery of America, God's revelation to Joseph Smith which sparked the beginning of the Mormon Church and how Smith was killed by a mob and became a martyr.
Warning the jury against prosecuting someone on the basis of religion, Jeffs added: "If it comes against unpopular religions a persecuting zeal, where should it end?"
He closed his remarks by saying, "Amen."
He did not talk about the sexual assault charges filed against him in two alleged underage plural marriages, one to the 12-year-old girl and the other to a 14-year-old.
Prosecutors say the older girl was 15 when Jeffs allegedly got her pregnant. A DNA expert testified Monday there is a greater than 99.9 percent certainty that Jeffs is the father of the girl's baby.
Neither girl testified for the prosecution.
Other evidence against Jeffs includes dozens of pages of priesthood records essentially Jeffs personal diaries and other FLDS forms purportedly showing that both girls were on the Texas ranch when sex occurred.
Other priesthood records have Jeffs portraying the 1,700-acre ranch as a "stronghold for the redemption of Zion," apart from the outside world.
Jeffs married the 12-year-old girl on the ranch July 27, 2006, according to other FLDS records. When Jeffs told the girl's father of the planned marriage, the father replied, "I am willing," and smiled, according to Jeffs' priesthood records. The father was present at the wedding ceremony.
The FLDS are prodigious record-keepers because they believe proper recordings of their lives are necessary to enter heaven, according to the Tuesday testimony of a former member.
Members had wanted to build a temple for years while living in their historic home base along the Utah-Arizona border. They moved an enormous number of their sacred records to the gleaming, sumptuously appointed structure on the YFZ Ranch when it was complete. Police seized at least 1.7 billion pages of evidence in the 2008 raid.
As on previous trial days, Jeffs on Wednesday made frequent objections to the evidence, claiming violations freedom of religion and that the documents were not relevant. Jeffs also seemed intent on imparting the "full understanding" he insisted was necessary to view the materials prosecutors entered as evidence.
Walther repeatedly overruled his objections.
On Tuesday, prosecutors had introduced three other audio recordings, including a 90-minute recording of Jeffs apparently giving the 14-year-old victim, along with 11 other wives, a lesson on group sex, becoming comfortable nude and how to care for their body hair. They listened to the December 2004 "training" after undressing and putting on white robes. Obedience and cooperation as a key to God's love were a running theme in all three recordings.
The recordings apparently were made by Jeffs who is thought to have around 90 wives to teach future spouses how to behave.
If found guilty, Jeffs will be sentenced by the same Texas jury. The penalty imposed could be up to life in prison.