Utah gets first crack at Jeffs

Polygamist leader will face more serious charges and can’t post bail in Beehive State

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs faces a judge here today in the first step toward his return to Utah, where prosecutors decided to try him first on charges that he arranged marriages between underage girls and older men.

Arizona also has a warrant for the leader of the breakaway Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who could agree to be transferred or fight extradition following his arrest late Monday in a traffic stop outside Las Vegas.

The initial appearance before a Las Vegas justice of the peace will be to inform Jeffs of the charges against him, said Joseph Abood, a Clark County public defender who was not directly involved in the case.

Prosecutors and a court official said Wednesday that Jeffs didn't have a lawyer.

One former church member predicted Jeffs would refuse to say anything in court.

"He won't even recognize their authority," Andrew Chatwin said by telephone from the sect's community of Hildale, Utah. "Warren's done away with the Constitution in this part of the land."

If Jeffs contests his arrest and fights extradition, the process could take up to 90 days, officials said.

"If he waives extradition, they'll decide who comes to get him and when," said Ben Graham, extradition unit chief deputy at the Clark County district attorney's office.

Utah prosecutors agreed Wednesday with their counterparts in Arizona to seek Jeffs first because they have a stronger case and more serious charges, said Brock Belnap, the county attorney in Utah's Washington County.

"This is not a turf thing," Belnap said. "We have the gravity of the charges here."

Jeffs is facing two counts of rape by accomplice in Utah. Each charge carries the possibility of life in prison if he is convicted.

In a court affidavit filed in Washington County, Utah, the victim says Jeffs performed a ceremony marrying her to an older man over her repeated objections and later commanded her to give herself "mind, body and soul to your husband like you're supposed to."

"Go back and do what he tells you to do," the affidavit quotes Jeffs saying.

Jeffs, 50, heads a group that split from the mainline Mormon church a century ago. He is said to have at least 40 wives and nearly 60 children.

Belnap said another factor in the decision to seek Jeffs in Utah was that he won't be able to post bail, while Arizona authorities set bail at $500,000 on its charges of sexual misconduct involving another arranged marriage. Those charges carry the possibility of two years in prison.

In Utah, 5th District Judge James L. Shumate in St. George signed an arrest warrant Wednesday for Jeffs, and a prosecution motion denying him bail.

Belnap said the decision to seek Jeffs first in Utah instead of Arizona came after a conference call involving state and federal prosecutors in both states.

Belnap said Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, who obtained the Arizona indictment against Jeff, "expressed that he was on board with the decision." Smith did not return repeated calls Wednesday from The Associated Press.

Warren Jeffs refused interviews Wednesday at the Clark County jail, where he was being held with in a solo cell in a common wing with 31 other inmates, said Jose Montoya, a Las Vegas police spokesman.

"His brother was here and saw him for 30 minutes," Montoya said of a late Tuesday visit from Isaac Jeffs, his brother who was released by authorities after the freeway traffic stop. "That was his only visitor."

Jeffs had been on the run for more than a year and was on the FBI's Most Wanted List since May. He was captured when he was stopped on Interstate 15 just north of Las Vegas late Monday by a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper who couldn't make out a temporary Colorado paper license tag on a 2007 Cadillac Escalade driven by Isaac Jeffs.