Warren Jeffs

Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs tried to kill himself in the Purgatory Jail and repeatedly renounced his role as "prophet," newly released court documents say.

Additional information
 » Court filings: State of Utah v. Warren Steed Jeffs

In a mental competency evaluation unsealed late Tuesday, doctors wrote that Jeffs tried to hang himself inside his cell in January. That led to a trip to the emergency room, and he returned to the jail under a suicide watch.

A few days later, doctors said Jeffs was observed "throwing himself against the walls," which led jail staff to give him a tranquilizer.

"On Feb. 2, 2007, he was banging his head on the wall. He denied any hallucinations at that time but simply described himself as anxious," Dr. Eric Nielsen wrote, noting that a psychiatrist who interviewed Jeffs determined the suicide attempt was a "cry for help."

When pressed about whether he was really intending to kill himself, Jeffs told Nielsen, "not really." The report said Jeffs claimed to be feeling better, which he attributed to "prayer and study."

Jeffs was diagnosed with a depressive disorder and ultimately declared competent to stand trial. The FLDS leader recently was convicted of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony, for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

A 5th District Court judge in St. George ordered more documents unsealed Tuesday after requests from several news media outlets, including the Deseret Morning News, and a private investigator.

"Obviously, in Warren's own words he is a fraud," said Sam Brower, the private investigator who has been looking into Jeffs and the FLDS Church for lawyers suing the polygamist sect.


Other papers released include transcripts of Jeffs' jailhouse conversations in which he renounced his role as "prophet" of the FLDS Church.

In a visit that was videotaped Jan. 25 at the Purgatory Jail, Jeffs met with his brother, Nephi. He dictates a message of hope to his followers, saying that the Lord is testing them. Then, he tells his brother: "Write this down."

"I am not the prophet. I never was the prophet, and I have been deceived by the powers of evil and Brother William E. Jessop has been the prophet since Father's passing, since the passing of my father," he said. "And I have been the most wicked man in this dispensation, in the eyes of God."

Jeffs goes on to say God visited him in jail and gave him a chance to "undo what I have done."

"And I ask for everyone's forgiveness and say farewell forever you who are worthy (for) Zion, for I will not be there," he said.

"Yes you will. This is just a test," Nephi replied.

According to the transcript, Jeffs urged his brother to get a copy of the jailhouse tape and distribute it. Nephi Jeffs told his brother he loved him and said: "This is a test. You are the prophet."

Three days later, Jeffs tried to hang himself.

The Deseret Morning News broke the story about the conversation in a story in March, and in subsequent stories, detailed how Jeffs has held "church" from the jail. The Washington County Sheriff's Office has said it records many of Jeffs' conversations, like any other inmate.

"I'm just a damn soul, damned soul," he said in one phone call to his followers.

Newly unsealed logs of Jeffs' phone calls from the Purgatory Jail reveal the FLDS leader made numerous calls to followers in January and again in June, renouncing his role as a prophet.

"I am not the one to be the prophet, and I am not the one to continue. That's all I have to say right now. Thank you," he reportedly said in a June 11 phone call with Merrill Jessop, who heads the FLDS Church's temple site in Eldorado, Texas.

Another conversation claims Jeffs made a vague reference to being "immoral" with a sister and a daughter, but he would never provide details to anyone who asked.

In court documents seeking to keep the conversations out of his trial, defense attorneys noted Jeffs' mental health and medical problems. They also said Jeffs recanted his renouncement, saying it was merely a test.

On Feb. 10, Jeffs made a series of phone calls announcing that he was "tested but remained committed to the priesthood." Defense attorney Richard Wright recounted one conversation.

"It's been a whole week of attack beyond what you can imagine," Jeffs said in the defense papers. "Finally, this morning I showed the Lord that I was for him and I wasn't going to give in, so be assured I'm for God and the priesthood. ... Though I said what I said, and felt unworthy of it all, I did not deny God and priesthood, I uphold them."

Wright detailed how in other phone conversations, Jeffs continued to act as FLDS prophet, praying with his members, taking their testimonies and giving spiritual instructions.


In the FLDS strongholds of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., news of Jeffs' suicide attempt and his renunciations generated mixed reaction.

"He tried to hang himself? Wow," said Richard Holm, an ex-FLDS member who was ousted by Jeffs and had his wives given to his brother.

Isaac Wyler, another ex-FLDS member who lives in Colorado City, said FLDS faithful still view Jeffs as their prophet.

"They believe it's a test," he said. "Warren's photo is still the one that's up in homes."

But so are portraits of Wendell Nielsen and William E. Jessop, top leaders in the polygamous church. Wyler said there may be a split coming in the FLDS Church.

"It won't be a mass wake-up or recognition of the deception that he's been perpetrating or the fact that he's been a raging wolf in sheep's clothing," Holm said.

Jeffs faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 20. The FLDS leader is also facing charges in Arizona, accusing him of performing more child bride marriages. Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News the newly unsealed documents "are of great interest to us."

The Utah Attorney General's Office has also been investigating Jeffs for other possible crimes, including an organized crime probe.

"Certainly we have ongoing investigations into other allegations," Utah attorney general's chief of law enforcement Ken Wallentine said Tuesday night. "I'll certainly assign an investigator to spend some time taking a look at what's in those documents."

A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City has also indicted Jeffs on unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, stemming from his time on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

E-mail: [email protected]