Warren Jeffs juror: 'I didn't think he was a man of God at all'
San Angelo, Texas • Mary Harris thought her job as a juror in the Warren Jeffs trial was going to be difficult.
"I'm a religious person. I thought it would be difficult to convict a man of God," she said. "When it was over, I didn't think he was a man of God at all."
The retired special education supervisor from Water Valley didn't know much about the polygamous sect Jeffs leads, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, before she walked into a courtroom nearly two weeks ago.
She'd heard about the more than 400 children taken from the sect's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado during a massive raid three years ago, but she knew little more before she became one of 10 women and two men chosen to weigh whether the 55-year-old Jeffs was guilty of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 15 and 12, whom he took as plural wives.
Shortly after jury selection, Jeffs decided to fire his high-profile defense attorneys and represent himself. After the judge denied his requests for more time, Jeffs sat silently as the prosecution began its case.
But the next morning, July 29, Jeffs broke his silence with a nearly 60-minute speech defending polygamy and his religion.
Harris was ready to listen.
"The first time, we were pleased to hear from him," she said. "He made a good case."
But it went downhill from there, she said. As the state continued their case, including DNA evidence that Jeffs had fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and an audiotape of Jeffs sexually assaulting the 12-year-old girl, Jeffs continued to object on the basis of freedom of religion and the violation of a "sacred trust."
She noticed Jeffs never claimed he was innocent.
"He didn't deny it because he had convinced himself God told him to do it," she said. "If God was speaking to him, it wasn't the God I believe in."
For her, hearing the voices of the girls on several audio recordings played by prosecutors was the most striking piece of evidence.
"They sounded like they were 5 or 6," she said.
As the prosecution laid out Jeffs' crimes using FLDS records seized in the 2008 raid, former sect member Rebecca Musser testified with background about the group's traditions.
"It was a learning experience. I didn't think it [the sect's traditions] was all bad," she said.
After the guilt or innocence phase ended on Aug. 4, Harris and her fellow jurors deliberated for about 3Â½ hours.
As they weighed the evidence, the panelists often referred back to the definitions of words that Jeffs used as euphemisms for sex like "heavenly session" and "getting close." The jury asked to hear the tape of the sexual assault again to ensure that they had heard Jeffs say the girl's name, she said.
After they delivered a guilty verdict, Harris thought the sentencing portion of the trial where prosecutors can lay out other misdeeds and a jury decides a sentence would be short.
Instead, prosecutors presented a mountain of new evidence detailing the 22 years Jeffs has controlled the FLDS. They showed records that he has 78 plural wives, including 24 girls 16 and younger, and evidence that Jeffs had excommunicated dozens of men from the sect.
Details of his 14 months on the run from accomplice to rape charges in 2005 and 2006 struck Harris. Prosecutors showed photos of Jeffs dressed in modern clothes, on a motorcycles and records of him using expensive cars, including a Porsche, Denali and Escalade.
"You saw him in a different light. He seemed to enjoy being on the run," she said.
The jurors decided to sentence Jeffs to the maximum penalty of life in prison, plus 20 years, in less than 30 minutes. The only discussion, she said, was over the fine, a possible added penalty on both charges. They ultimately chose to add one $10,000 fine.
"When I left, I was proud to be a Texan. That's what I felt like," she said. "I sleep like a baby at night, except for the ones left behind."
Online: The Polygamy Blog
Warren Jeffs is scheduled to be tried on one count of bigamy in a Texas courtroom in October.
It is unclear whether he will appeal his sexual-assault sentence. A judge agreed to release three of his attorneys two of whom Jeffs had already fired following the close of trial.
How will Warren Jeffs serve his prison time?
Warren Jeffs will be processed into prison within the next nine days, when officials will decide what security level he will be in, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He will either be housed with the general population, in a unit for inmates who sleep apart from the general population, or go into protective custody a form of solitary confinement for inmates with credible threats against their lives.
Jeffs has been controlling the FLDS through hundreds of phone calls a month made from a jail pay phone since his extradition to Texas early this year, former members say. But once he is in prison, Jeffs will only be able to call 10 people on a registered visitor list, Clark said. His phone calls will be limited to 15 minutes each and a total of 240 minutes a month.