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San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove, Associated Press
Eric Nichols, lead prosecutor for the state in the case against Warren Jeffs, leaves the Tom Green County Courthouse Wednesday, July 27, 2011 in San Angelo, Texas. A judge on Wednesday dealt a blow to the defense of polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs, refusing to suppress evidence police seized during a 2008 raid on his sect's West Texas compound.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Polygamist church leader Warren Jeffs' oft-delayed sexual assault trial is set to begin in earnest.

While Texas prosecutors claiming Jeffs sexually assaulted girls he manipulated into "spiritual marriage," defense attorneys contend his right to freedom of religion has been trampled.

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Opening statements are scheduled for Thursday. They will follow court hearing on whether evidence recovered when Jeffs was arrested after a 2006 traffic stop along a Nevada highway can be presented to jurors during the trial.

The 55-year-old Jeffs is head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He's charged with sexually assaulting two underage girls. If convicted, he could go to prison for life.

His church is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.