Tapes are apparently still being made of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs' conversations inside the Purgatory Jail.
"We record conversations of all inmates," Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith told the Deseret Morning News on Wednesday. "We are not doing anything differently with Warren Jeffs than we do for anyone else, and nothing has changed since his conviction."
Only conversations deemed protected, such as the ones between an attorney and client, are not recorded. The sheriff declined to comment on the contents of several jailhouse tapes that were detailed in recently unsealed court documents.
More court documents also reveal some of Jeffs' writings that were seized when the polygamist leader was arrested in August 2006, after months on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.
"You know that there are laws passed for the purpose to take me in bondage and put me in prison. The evil powers know of this mission, and the devil wants this work stopped," Jeffs reportedly said in a 2005 document that prosecutors cite in a court filing.
In other court papers, defense attorneys detailed how Jeffs renounced his role as a prophet of the FLDS faith and suggested that 31 years ago he had done something "immoral" with a sister and a daughter. He did not elaborate and later recanted his renouncement, saying he had "experienced a great spiritual test."
The documents were suddenly made public late Tuesday night when 5th District Judge James Shumate ordered their release without any explanation.
Jeffs, 51, was recently convicted 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. Jeffs is being kept in isolation at the Purgatory Jail. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 20.
Defense attorney Wally Bugden wrote in court papers filed under seal in July that Jeffs had been experiencing medical problems. In a series of recorded phone calls to family and followers on Jan. 24, Jeffs indicated that when he was 20, he had been "immoral" with a sister and a daughter.
"He renounced his role as the Prophet, explaining that the Lord revealed to him that he was a wicked man and has not held the priesthood since he was 20 years old," Bugden wrote.
The next day, Jeffs met with his brother Nephi at the Purgatory Jail. In a videotaped visitation, Jeffs declared that he had fasted for three days and had been awake all night. While dictating a religious message to his flock, Bugden wrote, Jeffs stopped talking for more than 13 minutes.
"Towards the end of the visit, the Defendant renounced his role as prophet," Bugden wrote.
Jeffs retracted his renouncement of his role in recorded conversations in February, defense attorneys wrote.
Washington County prosecutors sought to use the comments at trial, but the judge said they had the potential to prejudice a jury and he ordered them sealed. A hearing is scheduled in St. George's 5th District Court next week on news media requests to release sealed documents and tapes in the case.
In the unsealed court documents, prosecutors revealed that in November 2006, they sought protective measures for Elissa Wall, the former child-bride whose testimony ultimately helped convict the FLDS leader. Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap cited a document seized by FBI agents when they arrested Jeffs.
Excerpts state that Jeffs spoke of going into hiding, saying there were enemies who wanted to destroy his work and take his life. Jeffs spoke of a conspiracy that "involved taking me captive, putting me in jail, bringing forth witnesses, that involved the passing of these laws, to call us criminals by performing marriages, so-called 'under age' marriages ..."
The FBI refused Wednesday to comment about any evidence seized when Jeffs was arrested. The FLDS leader was indicted by a federal grand jury on unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, stemming from his time on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.
Jeffs' words could be used in criminal cases pending against him in Arizona, where the polygamist leader is accused of performing more child-bride marriages.
"I have no comment," Mohave County Attorney's investigator Gary Engels said when contacted by the Deseret Morning News on Wednesday.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who has had an organized crime probe into the FLDS Church, said that if Jeffs' statements admitted to any chargeable offenses, it might raise their interest.
But defense attorneys argue that any statements Jeffs has made are prejudicial. In a recent letter to a probation officer, Bugden said Jeffs would not participate in a pre-sentence interview because his statements could not be protected.
"I am not a fan of Jeffs, but I am a fan of respecting constitutional rights and individual human dignity," said Mary Batchelor, a member of the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices. She said releasing any recordings would make it difficult to find a fair jury in Arizona.
Ken Driggs, a Georgia lawyer and an expert on fundamentalism, said the recent disclosures may get mixed reaction from the FLDS faithful in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
"The few people I'm still in touch with down there still take a defensive kind of tact," he said Wednesday. "He's the prophet. He's persecuted. But a few people are keeping their heads down."
Roger Hoole, a lawyer who represents Elissa Wall and other ex-FLDS members suing Jeffs, wants the tapes made public for the benefit of people still in the FLDS Church."So that they can hear and see everything Warren Jeffs said and draw their own conclusions," he said.
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