SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Court of Appeals said Monday it will consider a petition to block polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs' extradition to Texas to face charges of sexual assault and bigamy.
The ruling came only a few hours after a state judge rejected the request, saying he had no authority to decide the issue or to overrule the Utah governor's decision to sign an extradition agreement with Texas.
Gov. Gary Herbert signed the executive agreement with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in August. Before that, Jeffs had twice refused to sign papers voluntarily agreeing to his extradition.
"I don't believe it's proper for this court to substitute its judgment for that of the governor," 3rd District Judge Terry Christansen said.
Now the appeals court will determine whether Jeffs, the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints, should be allowed to stay in Utah to resolve a long-running pending criminal case before being sent to Texas.
In a statement, defense attorneys Walter Bugden and Tara Isaacson said they were gratified by the appeals court's quick attention to the case.
"After 50 months of incarceration, Mr. Jeffs is entitled to a speedy trial here in Utah," the attorneys wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Before he is shuttled to Texas, we would like finality in the Utah prosecution, with either dismissal or a retrial."
An e-mail sent to the Utah attorney general's office, which has until Wednesday to file its reply with the court, was not immediately returned Monday.
Jeffs, 54, remains incarcerated at the Utah State Prison, 50 months after his arrest, prosecution and conviction on two charges of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage of an underage follower — then 14 — to her 19-year-old cousin.
In July, the Utah Supreme overturned the 2007 convictions and sent the case back to the 5th District Court in St. George, although prosecutors have yet to decide whether they'll retry Jeffs.
In district court Monday, Bugden argued Jeffs is supposed to have a constitutional right to a speedy trial. He said extradition could delay — by years — the resolution of the case and make it difficult for evidence to be gathered or for witnesses to recall events dating back at least a decade.
Christansen sided with the Utah attorney general's office, who argued the case could still move forward if Jeffs were in Texas.
Texas authorities have charged Jeffs with bigamy, aggravated sexual assault and assault charges for alleged incidents involving underage girls at a church ranch near Eldorado. The charges stem from information gleaned from church and family records seized during a raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch in April 2008.
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