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Warren Jeffs' own documents turn against him

Published August 8, 2011 8:02 am

Detailed documents helped prosecutors prove sexual abuse.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

San Angelo, Texas • Someone once said if you don't write it down, it didn't happen.

Warren Jeffs has shown just what can happen if you do write it down.

The polygamous sect leader didn't want outsiders to know a lot of things, yet he kept copious records of his travels, his marriages and, prosecutors have proven to a jury, even his sexual encounters with underage girls.

The FLDS were "always big on record keeping," said Sam Brower, a private investigator from Cedar City who has written a book on Jeffs and the FLDS. "Warren took it to a new level."

Those writings were Jeffs' undoing when a jury here Thursday found him guilty of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and a count of sexual abuse of a child. The writings will continue to wreak havoc on Jeffs as his sentencing trial resumes Monday. Jeffs faces up to life in prison.

The writings are everything from what Jeffs describes as proclamations from God delivered through him to a running narrative of his days. Sometimes he's documenting sect business, such as a document dated Feb. 9, 2004, when Jeffs says he gave Merrill Jessop, the bishop at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, a $47,000 check from the sale of cattle to be used toward farming at the ranch.

Jeffs also recorded household matters, such as a March 24, 2006, document in which he recalls telling some of his wives which bedrooms to sleep in on the Eldorado ranch.

A key document for the prosecution was dated March 9, 2005. Jeffs wrote of the pregnancy of the 15-year-old girl who is the victim in the sexual assault of a child charge. Jeffs said the child was "conceived during the heavenly sessions."

The phrase "heavenly sessions" is also heard on the audio recording prosecutors say document Jeffs having sex with the 12-year-old girl. She is the victim in the aggravated sexual abuse of a child charge.

Heard in isolation, the recordings are vague. Jeffs never expressly tells anyone on the recordings to have sex with him or announces he is having sex. But his writings provided the context for the audio.

Prosecutor Eric Nichols on Friday still was prohibited from discussing trial evidence, but when asked if the audio could have been admitted as evidence without the writings, he pointed out the writings were introduced to the jury first.

"The audio tapes were entered after a careful laying of the foundation," he said.

It's unclear how many of the documents Jeffs typed rather than dictated.

In one document, Jeffs describes one of his wives, Naomi Jessop, as "my scribe." She was with Jeffs when officers arrested him in Nevada in 2006.

Jessop's name appears frequently throughout the documents.

Law enforcement officials found the audio recording of Jeffs having sex with the 12-year-old when Jeffs was arrested. Prosecutors last week introduced evidence suggesting it was recorded so Jessop could transcribe it.

It also is unclear why Jeffs documented so much. Former FLDS member Rebecca Musser testified last week she once saw Jeffs keeping entries in a notebook. She asked why.

Jeffs, Musser testified, replied: "Because I will be held accountable for every interaction with my people."

Yet Jeffs' fixation with records exceeded that of prior prophets, said Elaine Jeffs, who also was a daughter of Rulon Jeffs, the man the defendant succeeded as prophet.

"When I was growing up, diaries were verboten because they could go toward putting my father in jail," Elaine Jeffs said.

The FLDS believe records on Earth must match records in heaven, but Elaine Jeffs said that only applies to marriage and birth records.

Rulon Jeffs would write down sermons for posterity, she said, but there was no precedent for her younger half-brother to keep such details of his day-to-day activities.

FLDS birth and marriage records also were entered into evidence in Jeffs' trial to demonstrate the ages of his victims and family relationships. Police found those records in the 2008 raid on the YFZ Ranch.

Brower thinks Jeffs kept his own documentation because he wanted "trophies."

"He wanted a record of his rule," Brower said.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle