Tuesday, June 18, 2013
The Associated Press
SAN ANGELO, Texas - Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs broke his silence Friday, delivering before jurors a 55-minute sermon defending plural marriage as ordered by God and protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Jeffs, 55, is accused of sexually assaulting two underage girls and could face life in prison if convicted. He fired his high-powered defense team on Thursday and has been representing himself, but he made no opening statement and spent hours sitting alone at the defense table staring into space in silence while prosecutors made their case.
That changed, however, as FBI agent John Broadway testified about seizing eight desktop computers and 120 boxes and large folders of documents from the sect's West Texas compound in April 2008. Broadway was about to describe a list of names and birth dates for those living at the compound when Jeffs suddenly cried "I object!"
"There is sacred trust given to religious leadership not to be touched by government agencies," he said.
Jeffs is ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. The church's 10,000 members see Jeffs as a prophet who speaks for God.
"We cannot surrender these principles based on the laws of man trying to convince us that our religion is not necessary in practice," he said, referring to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Jeffs' sect made headlines nationwide in 2008, when authorities raided its compound in tiny Eldorado, about 45 miles from San Angelo, after hearing allegations that young girls were being forced into polygamist marriages. Jeffs and 11 other FLDS men were charged with crimes including sexual assault and bigamy.