ST. GEORGE As tapes of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs' jailhouse conversations are made public, law enforcement and lawyers are watching and listening.
The tapes could become evidence in Jeffs' upcoming criminal case and could open the door to more investigations into the FLDS leader.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said his office continues to gather evidence but would not say if there is a new criminal probe.
"We still talk to people," he told the Deseret Morning News on Wednesday. "I know one of my criminal investigators spoke to a witness yesterday."
On Wednesday, the Washington County Attorney's Office released a videotape of Jeffs' jailhouse conversation with his brother, Nephi, in response to a public records request by news media outlets.
On the DVD provided Wednesday, Jeffs appeared thin and pale during a videotaped conversation with his brother, Nephi, who took
notes of his brother's comments. At one point, while dictating advice to his followers, Jeffs stopped talking and appeared to become nearly motionless while still holding the phone to his ear.
His brother waited patiently as Jeffs sat upright, blinking and swaying slightly. At one point, Jeffs removes the phone from his ear and appears to be frustrated, then places it back to his right ear, swaying before becoming motionless again as Nephi continues to watch and wait.
The footage, while grainy and a little dark, appears to show Jeffs struggling with his emotions during the nearly 13-minute-long period of silence. Sounds of other jail activities can be heard in the background while Jeffs mutely holds the phone to his ear. Nephi never takes his eyes off his brother during this time.
Several times in the video, Jeffs appears to be mouthing soundless words into the phone. He eventually says, '"Thank you, good-bye," and Nephi echoes his words, adding, "We love you. Just anxious to be a strength in any way," but neither brother hangs up the phone.
Nephi tells Jeffs he feels privileged to be in his presence, which leads Jeffs to thank his brother, smile and hang up the phone. But Jeffs again picks the phone up and appears to be mouthing soundless words. He hangs up the phone but doesn't let go of it and sits quietly, blinking, as Nephi waits.
Once again, Jeffs puts the phone to his ear and appears to be mouthing something, although he says nothing out loud. Eventually, Jeffs asks Nephi to write his words down, "A message from (Jeffs sighs) your God of Heaven, through his former servant, who is not his servant, that the messages I gave yesterday were true, except for the part about being the most wickedest man on the face of the Earth since Adam's time. That part was from the powers of the Evil One that were trying to influence me."
The conversation again is halted as Jeffs holds the phone and appears to be speaking silently to himself. At this point Jeffs tells Nephi he was not the prophet and was never the prophet and to send that message to all the priesthood people wherever they are and to allow anyone to see the video that was being recorded.
Jeffs said he "yearns for everyone's forgiveness for his aspiring and selfish way of life," adding he "deceived the elect and was the most wicked man on the face of the Earth in this last dispensation."
"Farewell, all of you," Jeffs said, blinking. "For the Lord has promised that I would have a place in the Telestial Kingdom of God if I had my brother Nephi write these words down."
Jeffs again told Nephi that God visited him in his cell two days ago, bestowing upon him the gift of understanding the Lord's words. Jeffs breaks down at this point, saying, "So I could have this opportunity to undo what I have done and to ask for everyone's forgiveness. Farewell forever, you who are worthy for Zion, for I will not be there." Jeffs' voice breaks and Nephi says immediately, "Yes, you will. This is just a test."
But Jeffs tells his brother to let everyone see the video, adding, "The Lord wants me to ... (Jeffs begins to sob) ... that he finally shed a tear for the Lord his God, who has redeemed his soul."
Jeffs lowers his head and is crying as he says, "He whispers, you, Nephi, need to get a copy of this video before you leave, if you can. Order it. You can tell he is still dictating to me to tell you, Nephi, before he leaves me to my punishment. You, Nephi, can tell anybody who wants to read this message or see this video that they can see it, (Jeffs stops, overcome with emotion) even apostates and gentiles, that they may know that I have been a liar and the truth is not in me. Tell the family I will not be calling anymore, not even today."
"This is just a test. You are the prophet. We will not forsake you," Nephi says immediately.
But Jeffs says, still crying, "Wait, the Lord is still dictating, this is not a test, from the Lord God of Heaven through his former servant who was never his servant, who is dictating these words at this time that you may know this is not a test. I say farewell, again, to all who qualify for Zion. Farewell."
Jeffs hangs up the phone, stands up, and tells the guard he is ready to go. Breathing heavily, Nephi holds the phone to his ear and tells his brother, "We love you. We love you," and watches Jeffs leave the small room. Nephi remains behind silent, looking down at his notes, then removes his glasses and holds his arms over his eyes, wiping away tears.
It is several moments before Nephi puts his pen and notebook away, looks again at where his brother once sat. He stands and leans heavily against the wall, waiting, with his hands together as if he is praying, and finally leaves.
Besides criminal investigators, civil lawyers have already begun looking at transcripts unsealed by a judge on Tuesday.
"I think that helps us get a little flavor of what's going on," said Jeffrey L. Shields, an attorney representing the court-appointed special fiduciary in charge of the FLDS Church's real-estate arm, the United Effort Plan Trust.
He took particular interest in a Jan. 24 conversation between Jeffs and followers in Eldorado, Texas.
"I want you to tell the presiding elder that the Lord showed me that David Fischer and family should be sent back to Short Creek and be removed from the land and go in the house where Lindsay Barlow lives, make the move quietly," Jeffs said.
Administrators of the UEP Trust have faced resistance ever since the courts took control of the $110 million financial empire in 2005, amid allegations that Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders mismanaged it.
"The more information we get, the better we can make judgements," Shields said. "Warren has been totally non-cooperative."
Shields recently subpoenaed the Washington County prosecutors and the sheriff, seeking copies of the tapes. On Tuesday, lawyers representing Jeffs asked a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court to quash it.
"Jeffs makes his motion on the grounds that the subpoena seeks government records which contain information 'the disclosure of which constitutes a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, which were created or maintained for ... criminal ... enforcement purposes,' and the release of which 'would create a danger of depriving a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial hearing,' " attorney Robert Keller wrote in court papers.
Lawyers representing ex-FLDS members, including the woman who testified against Jeffs, have also sought the tapes to use in their lawsuits against Jeffs.
In Arizona, Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said the unsealed papers and tapes could be used as evidence in Jeffs' upcoming trial on charges of sexual misconduct with a minor as an accomplice, and incest as an accomplice. He is accused of performing more child-bride marriages.
"Because it could be potential evidence we can't comment on it," said Mohave County Attorney's investigator Gary Engels.2 comments on this story
Jeffs' defense attorneys objected to the release of the tapes, saying they will hurt his chances for a fair trial in Arizona. The FLDS leader is facing charges of sexual misconduct with a minor as an accomplice and incest as an accomplice.
"I am very fearful that, if these video and audiotapes are released, they will be publicly disseminated and viewed by prospective jurors in Mohave County," defense attorney Michael Piccarreta wrote in a letter to the judge. "It is my belief that these items, which have been apparently ruled inadmissible at trial, will be seen by prospective jurors and severely impact Mr. Jeffs' right to a fair trial in Mohave County."Jeffs, 51, was convicted in St. George's 5th District Court of first-degree felony rape as an accomplice, stemming from a marriage he performed between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He faces up to life in prison when he's sentenced on Nov. 20. In Arizona, he has an upcoming trial on charges of sexual misconduct with a minor and incest as an accomplice.