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Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Warren Jeffs' arrest, and trial

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About Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS):

Warren Jeffs, (1956 -) was previously the principal of Alta Academy, a FLDS religious high school which is now closed. 1 He took over control of the FLDS when his father, Roulon Jeffs died at the age of 92.

In the past, the state governments had minimal intrusion in FLDS affairs. However, the group's legal difficulties appear to have escalating in recent years:

bullet In Texas, a new law was passed in 2005 that raises the age of consent to marry to 16 and outlaws "stepfather" marriages.

bullet In Utah, a judge removed Jeffs and other trustees from control of the multimillion-dollar trust fund that owns most of the land, homes and businesses used by FLDS members.

bullet In Arizona, the state took over control of the public school district in Colorado City. The district is allegedly in debt and missing funds.

bullet An Arizona grand jury indicted Jeffs on two felony charges relating to underage marriages within the FLDS. Matthew Smith, the Mohave County, Arizona, Attorney said:

"This isn't about religious persecution. This has nothing to do with polygamy. It has to do with underage marriage. It has to do with leaving these young girls alone so they can have a little more maturity and make their own decisions."

bullet On 2006-MAY-06, the FBI announced that it had placed Jeffs on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. According to the Associated Press, they hoped that "...the additional exposure and reward money leads to an arrest in the long running investigation." 2

bullet CNN reported on 2006-AUG-29 that Jeffs was arrested after the car he was driving, a new Cadillac Escalade, was stopped for a routine check in Los Vegas.

Gary Engels, an investigator for the Mohave County Attorney's Office, said:

"It has all the makings of coming apart. People are scattering all over the place. Most of Warren's faithful are moving on to somewhere else, where there is less focus on them....It's my hope and dream that this place comes back into America, where these people have the same rights as anyone, and where the government isn't run by religious organization. You feel you are in a third-world country here."

Meanwhile, construction continues at Yearning for Zion Ranch -- located on nearly 1,700 acres near Eldorado, TX. It currently has 14 log structures, four large metal buildings, and a large stone temple. An unnamed neighbor said:

"I think eventually something will happen, maybe not tomorrow. I think perhaps Warren Jeffs will be taken out of power, and a new, more moderate prophet might come...The whole thing nauseates me, that these children are not educated, that these women get married so young, that these men work 20 hours a day, and they are all so brainwashed that they don't know any different. It breaks my heart. At 14 you're going to be married to a man who could be your grandfather. Someone chose him for you. You're going to be his fifth wife."

The future of the FLDS:

The arrest of Warren Steed Jeffs appears to have sent a shockwave through the membership of the FLDS. Many members had thought that God would protect him from arrest. It is difficult to assess their precise response because they do not talk to outsiders, particularly the media.

The Salt Lake Tribune stated that:

"Residents of FLDS communities scattered around the country - from Canada to Texas - were said to be initially saddened, subdued and shell-shocked as word spread of Jeffs' capture. No FLDS members would comment for the record for this story." 3

One item that is liable to cause much consternation and even loss of faith in Jeffs' leadership was rarely reported in the media: When Jeffs was arrested, he was wearing an apparently very comfortable pair of shorts and white T-shirt. One of his wives who accompanied him was dressed in slacks. Both asked to be able to change into their regular religious clothes before being photographed.  Members of the FLDS are required to wear white religious undergarments and are totally covered except for their hands and head. This must cause considerable discomfort in hot weather.

There appears to be no consensus about the future of the group.

bullet Former FLDS member Michael Chatwin, referring to the twin towns of Colorado City, AZ and Hildale, UT said:

"Change will come, but slowly, as more realize they can make choices without repercussions from their religion. In five years, you'll notice a significant difference. It will be like any other place in America."3

bullet Rod Parker, an attorney from Salt Lake City, UT, who has defended the FLDS church and some of its members in court said:

"I would say they were a little shocked. Shocked to the point that they didnít really even know how to respond....They are reliving a history [of persecution] here. Itís just sort of reinforcing that this is their burden ... and I think it may make them stronger and more insular as a group." 4

bullet Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said:

"This arrest will crack his mystique and provide the opportunity for the entire story to be told in a court of law before a judge and jury. ... I think you're going to see a lot of changes within the FLDS community as far as their feelings about him, their fear of him, their loyalty to him. We're hoping that will start to crumble." 5

bullet Bruce R. Wisan, a court-appointed fiduciary who now controls a trust that holds most of the land and buildings in Hildale and Colorado City, said:

"The people may initially show or feel despair or sadness, and then they may feel anger after that at law enforcement. . . . And then maybe after that there is a recognition things are changing. They may have to work a little more with the system. ... I don't see that happening today, tomorrow, next week or next month. It might be a year before this transition takes place, maybe two years." 5

It is also unclear who will control the FLDS during the immediate future. There are local bishops who control isolated FLDS groups in Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada; Mesquite, NV, Pringle, SD; and Eldorado, TX. One of these may be selected to take charge of the denomination. Some observers speculate that Jeffs will continue to control the FLDS from jail.

There are other problems within this group and among other LDS Restorationist groups practicing polygyny.

bullet Family relationships are becoming complicated.

bullet Thomas Arthur Green (not the comedian Tom Green) allegedly has five wives and 30 children. He was convicted in 2001 of four counts of bigamy and one count of failure to pay child support. In 2002 he was convicted of child rape with his legal wife who was 13 years old at the time. He married a woman who was 15 year old cousin, his wife and his aunt.

bullet There are reports of an alarming rise in the number of birth defects caused by inbreeding.

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Jeffs convicted of conspiracy to rape a child:

Jeffs was convicted on 2007-SEP-25 of two charges of being an accomplice to rape. He had married a 19-year-old man to a 14-year-old girl against her will. The girl helped the prosecution. The jury considered the case for about 16 hours over three days. He received two sentences of five years to life. The Associated Press article on the ABC News web site accumulated 148 comments from readers. 6

William (Beau) Weston, a Sociology professor in Danville, KY commented on his Gruntled Center blog:

"His part in the conspiracy was to order a 14-year-old girl in the sect to marry her 19-year-old cousin. Such is the nature of cults that his order, backed by a threat of damnation, was enough to make her do it. She later left the cult and has helped prosecutors make the case."

"This is an iffy use of the rape law, as I have argued before. Still, the guy needed to be stopped. In prison he has tried to kill himself. He says he is not worthy of the Mormon priesthood. Perhaps some of the members of the cult who were on the edge of leaving may be freed of their thrall."

"The history of extreme oppositional cults, though, suggests that most members will see this sentence as confirmation that the forces of evil, including the government, are conspiring against them."

"Perhaps Jeffs himself will have a prison repentance." 7

Further developments:

  • 2007-NOV-20: He began his imprisonment at the Utah State Prison.

  • 2009-NOV-04: The Utah Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments of an appeal by Warren Jeffs. It was held at the Reuben Clark School of Law at Brigham Young University. 8

  • 2010-JUL-27: The Supreme Court reversed Jeffs' conviction because of incorrect instructions to the jury .

  • 2011-AUG-09: He had been extradited to Texas and tried for unconsensual sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl as well as aggravated sexual assault involving intercourse with a 12-year-old girl at the FLDS West Texas ranch. During the sentencing phase, his nephew testified to having been raped since he was 5 years of age. His niece testified to having been raped since she was 7 years of age. He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 20 years and a $10,000 fine. 9

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Brooke Adams, "Thou Shalt Obey," Salt Lake Tribune, 2004-MAR-14, in the archives at:  Reprinted by RelgionNewsBlog at:
  2. Doug Alden, "Polygamy Sect Leader on FBI Wanted List," Associated Press, 2006-MAY-06, at:
  3. Brooke Adams, "Jeffs' attire raises questions," Salt Lake Tribune, 2006-AUG-31, at:
  4. "Jeffs May Retain His Grip Even From Jail," KUTV, 2006-AUG-29, at:
  5. Brooke Adams and Lisa Rosetta, "FLDS leader Jeffs captured; future of leadership cloudy. Vacuum at the top: With the prophet jailed, candidates include one of his brothers," Salt Lake Tribune,2006-AUG-30, at:
  6. Jennifer Dobner, "Polygamist Leader in Utah Convicted of Sex Charges in Arranged Marriage," Associated Press, 2007-SEP-25, at:
  7. William Weston, "Warren Jeffs [sic] Sentence is the Best of a Bad Deal," Gruntled Center blog, 2007-NOV-20, at:
  8. "Utah's top court to hear Jeffs' appeal." Deseret News, 2009-SEP-15, at:
  9. "Warren Jeffs," Wikipedia, as on 2011-AUG-01, at:

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Copyright © 2004 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-JUL-25
Latest update: 2011-AUG-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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