Warren Jeffs apparently abdicated his position as president of the Fundamentalist LDS Church in a note he wanted to give to the judge handling the criminal case against him.
The note is partially visible in photographs taken at the end of Jeffs' court appearance last week. The Deseret Morning News had the photographs analyzed by a digital enhancement expert, a forensic handwriting analyst and a genealogist.
"I have not been a Prophet and am not the Prophet," one line that is visible reads.
The contents of the note were also corroborated by law enforcement sources who spoke to the Deseret Morning News on the condition of anonymity.
A thin and frail-looking Jeffs attempted to speak to the judge after a long day of hearings in St. George's 5th District Court last week.
"May I approach the bench?" Jeffs asked Judge James Shumate. "I need to just take care of one matter."
Shumate refused to hear it, urging Jeffs to speak to his lawyers.
"Can I take care of it now?" Jeffs asked again.
The polygamist sect leader then bent over and wrote something down on a pad of paper. His hands shaking, he fumbled as he tried to tear at the paper, but he needed help. A Deseret Morning News photographer representing the media in the courtroom took pictures of the event.
The image of the note was shot from a distance, and the writing is fuzzy. Some sentences have been deciphered, including a line Jeffs wrote saying he "failed (to) lead the people of the Fundamentalist Church."
Jeffs was immediately surrounded by Washington County sheriff's deputies, and his lawyers took the paper from him. Outside of court, Jeffs' defense attorney, Walter Bugden Jr., declined to comment on why his client wanted to speak to the judge. He said they would appeal the judge's rejection of his motions challenging the criminal case against the FLDS leader.
Bugden declined to comment to the Deseret Morning News Wednesday.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office also refused to comment on the note. The Utah Attorney General's Office said it was unaware of the note's contents.
"I can't acknowledge the existence or lack of existence of a statement by the defendant Jeffs," Deputy Washington County Attorney Brian Filter said.
The Deseret Morning News reported last week that Jeffs had reportedly renounced his position as prophet of the FLDS Church in a jailhouse conversation with one of his brothers. A law enforcement source said the conversation was recorded by Purgatory Jail officials, who monitor his calls. That tape is in the custody of the Washington County attorney, who would not comment.
Other law enforcement agencies have refused to confirm or deny the tape's existence.
In Arizona, where Jeffs faces charges accusing him of performing more child-bride marriages, Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith would not rule out using any tape as evidence.
"It would not be appropriate for me to comment on anything that I've learned about what's going on in Washington County," Smith said in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News. "Obviously, if Warren Jeffs made statements along the lines suggested in the newspaper article, I would be very interested in their potential use at our trial."
Jeffs, 51, faces criminal charges in Utah of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He is accused of performing a child-bride marriage. A hearing is scheduled April 23 to discuss a motion suppressing evidence in the case against the polygamist leader.
Late Tuesday, Bugden filed a petition under seal in court. Court minutes indicate an order was also filed under seal. Typically, such filings deal with matters of evidence, medical or psychological issues. Bugden also declined to discuss the filings when contacted by the Deseret Morning News Wednesday.
In August 2006, Jeffs was arrested in a traffic stop outside Las Vegas. At the time, he was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. The computers, documents, cell phones, credit cards and other evidence seized from the Cadillac Escalade are at the center of an evidence battle.Defense attorneys have asked to delay a hearing in a Nevada federal court pending the outcome of a similar fight over evidence in Utah. Last month, Jeffs was indicted by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City on a single charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.