HURRICANE, Utah (AP) - Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs has hired a lawyer to defend him against felony sex charges involving an arranged marriage between an underage girl and an older man that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Las Vegas attorney Richard Wright contacted jail officials Tuesday, asking that Jeffs be held apart from other inmates "for his own protection," Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said at a news conference.
Jeffs, 50, was transferred from Nevada to the Purgatory Correctional Facility, arriving in a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter that landed about 12:35 MDT Tuesday in the exercise yard behind the jail.
An initial court appearance was scheduled for 1 p.m. today before 5th District Judge James L. Shumate in nearby St. George. The hearing will occur via video cameras set up in the jail. It was unclear Tuesday if Wright would appear with Jeffs, said Washington County Senior Deputy Attorney Brian Filter.
Since 2002, Jeffs has been leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist sect of 10,000 that for a century has made its home in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz.
Jeffs is charged in Utah with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice, accused of having arranged a "spiritual marriage" between a teenage girl and an older man. He was arrested by the Nevada Highway Patrol during an Aug. 28 traffic stop after nearly two years on the run.
The alleged marriage took place some time within the past four years, when the girl was between age of 14 and 18, according to Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap. "Jane Doe," as the girl is referred to in court documents, objected to the marriage but was told by Jeffs that she must she must give herself "mind, body and soul" to her husband, court papers said.
Jeffs, who decides which of his followers marry and to whom, told the girl that she would lose her salvation if she did not obey her husband, court papers said.
Las Vegas jail records released Tuesday by Las Vegas police show that Jeffs was visited four times - once Friday, twice Saturday and once Monday - by Wright. On Saturday he was accompanied by Nephi Jeffs, one of Warren Jeffs' brothers, who also attended extradition proceedings in Las Vegas on Thursday.
A well-regarded Las Vegas defense lawyer, Wright represented former Clark County Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey during her trial and sentencing to 2-1/2 years in federal prison on political corruption charges.
Wright also represented world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. during his acquittal last year on charges he hit his former girlfriend during a 2003 argument outside a Las Vegas nightclub.
Wright met again with Nephi Jeffs on Tuesday in Las Vegas for about an hour at the same time Warren Jeffs was arriving by helicopter in Utah. Nephi Jeffs ignored a reporter's questions afterward. Wright declined comment.
Washington County officials had already planned to keep Warren Jeffs in a single 6-by-10 cell, on 23-hour lockdown and separate from other inmates, Smith said.
"We understand that there are going to be people that may not ascribe to his religious point of view and they may not like him," Smith said.
Smith said the secrecy and security employed during Jeffs' helicopter transport from Nevada was fueled by a concern for his safety.
"When you're dealing with religious extremists, we don't know what to expect," Smith said. "We're 'worst-case scenario' people ... 120 miles in an automobile is not my idea of smart way of making a transport with somebody."
Smith said he had every indication that Jeffs would be a "model prisoner," based on information from Las Vegas police and the "meek, passive" demeanor Jeffs exhibited during transport.
The 9-year-old Purgatory Correctional Facility is the 460-bed Washington County jail in Hurricane, about 30 miles west of Hildale. Jeffs will be held alone in a small cell for 23 hours a day, with one hour for showers, exercise and phone calls, according to Sheriff Kirk Smith. Jeffs will be allowed up to two hours of visitation weekly.
Last week, Shumate granted a request from Belnap to temporarily revoke a $500,000 bond request for Jeffs. Belnap, who said Jeffs is a flight risk, wants bail revoked permanently, a request that could be dealt with at the initial court appearance. He had been on the FBI's most wanted list since May.
Jeffs, who was arrested on a federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, also faces felony charges in Arizona, accused there of arranging a marriage between a 16-old-girl and a 28-year-old man, who was already married.