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Attorney seeks to delay polygamist sect leader's trial

By Will Weissert

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 5 2011 10:42 p.m. MST

Warren Jeffs is led from the courthouse after his pretrial hearing in Texas.

Associated Press

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was re-arraigned Wednesday on sexual assault charges, and his new attorney asked the West Texas court to delay Jeffs' upcoming trial to give him time to prepare.

Jeffs, the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, did not speak and had the court enter not guilty pleas on his behalf as he was re-indicted and re-arraigned on charges of aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault. Prosecutors say Jeffs had sex with two children, one under age 14 and the other under age 17.

Jeffs' new attorney, Gerry Morris of Austin, asked San Angelo district court Judge Barbara Walther for more time to prepare a defense, telling her "I've only just been hired to the case and haven't looked at the materials."

Jeffs, 55, had been scheduled to go to trial Jan. 24 on the aggravated sexual assault charges, with a separate trial for sexual assault and one for felony bigamy to come later. Jeffs was extradited from Utah on Nov. 30 and Walther had said extradition rules compelled her court to try him on all counts within 120 days of his arrival in Texas.

But she told Morris she would consider motions waving those rules and met with him and prosecutors to set new dates, which she planned to announce later Wednesday.

State prosecutor Eric Nichols said the revised indictments would allow Jeffs to be tried jointly on both sexual assault and aggravated sexual charges, with a separate trial for felony bigamy still to come.

Jeffs, who is being held without bond, smiled at three male followers who stood when he was brought into the courtroom.

During four previous pretrial hearings last month, Jeffs was advised by an attorney who represented him in cases in Utah and Arizona but who was not licensed in Texas. Jeffs said repeatedly that he had been unable to locate in-state council with his first trial date mere weeks away.

The Texas charges stem from the 2008 raid of the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, a remote community south of San Angelo in this pecan-growing region. Authorities seized 439 children and placed them in state custody on suspicion that the girls were being sexually abused and the boys were being raised to be sexual predators.

Most of the children were eventually returned to their families, but seven men in the sect who see Jeffs as their spiritual leader were charged and eventually convicted of child sexual assault and abuse.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah in a case stemming from the marriage of an underage girl to her cousin, but that was overturned in 2007 due to improper jury instructions.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a breakaway sect of the Mormon church and believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven. Mormons denounced the practice in the 1890s.

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