A judge on Friday postponed the trial of a former polygamous sect bishop so his lawyers can have more time to prepare for trial and determine whether their client has memory problems.
Jury selection for Lyle Jeffs’ trial is now scheduled to begin Oct. 19 with the trial to begin Oct. 23. Judge Ted Stewart had scheduled jury selection to begin Sept. 14 with the trial to begin four days later. Jeffs is charged with counts of money laundering, conspiracy and failure to appear in court.
The new date is less of a delay than Jeffs’ attorneys had wanted. They asked for the trial to begin in January. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lund had asked for the Oct. 23 date, saying postponement beyond that would deny the government and the public a right to a speedy trial.
In a hearing Thursday, Jeffs attorney Kathryn Nester told Stewart the defense has finished its forensic accounting of what prosecutors call money laundering and fraud, but Nester said she still needs to find an expert to testify about that accounting.
As for Jeffs, Nester told Stewart about a three-story fall onto concrete her client suffered in the mid-1990s and a car accident he had in 1998. Nester told Stewart she has noticed Jeffs has memory problems and wants him to receive a neurological exam and an MRI.
Nester said she does not think a professional will deem Jeffs incompetent to stand trial, but she wants to be able to explain to a jury why her client can’t remember key moments that relate to the crimes alleged by prosecutors.
“Should he decide to testify, if there are things he doesn‘t remember, the government is going to impeach him,” Nester said, ”and we need to be able to address that.”
Jeffs is accused of orchestrating a scheme to defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often referred to as food stamps. Groceries that Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints members purchased with the benefits were diverted to the church or converted to cash, prosecutors say. But defense attorneys have said the FLDS were merely donating their benefits or groceries.
Nester told Stewart on Thursday she plans to file a motion seeking a separate trial for the charge of failing to appear in court. That charge stems from Jeffs’ absconding from a pre-trial release. He was captured in June in South Dakota after almost a year on the run.
Jeffs is being held at the Tooele County jail. In previous hearings, anywhere from one to 30 FLDS members appeared in the courtroom gallery.
No FLDS members were in the courtroom gallery Thursday.