Warren Jeffs Back In Court After Motion to Remove Judge Fails

Polygamy trial back in session after Warren Jeffs calls for judge's removal

Aug. 1, 2011 -- The sexual assault trial of Warren Jeffs resumed Monday after a one-hour delay to review and reject a motion filed by the polygamist sect leader to have the longtime judge in his case, Texas District Judge Barbara Walther, removed.

Jeffs told the San Angelo, Texas, courtroom where his trial is being held today that a revelation from God prompted him to file the motion against Walther, whom he said God labeled "a woman of evil intent."

"I am to now recuse you from this case," Jeffs wrote in his transcription of the message he said was delivered to him by God on Sunday, according to the Associated Press. "Now sign order to recuse thyself; and allow this proceeding to stop ..."

Judge Walther was forced to call a recess in order to have an outside judge review the 16-page filing from Jeffs, forcing yet another delay in proceedings as the slow-moving trial began its sixth day.

Jeffs last week fired his attorneys and has been representing himself in court. Seven attorneys have appeared on his behalf since December. The switches contributed to a six-month delay to the start of his trial.

The motion filed by Jeffs today marked the third time the 55-year-old head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) has tried to recuse Judge Walther from his case.

Jeffs stands accused of sexually assaulting two underage girls in his sect and forcing them both into a "spiritual marriage." The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. He faces a separate trial on a bigamy charge in October.

The charges against Jeffs , the spiritual leader for the more than 10,000 members of the FLDS, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, were leveled after a 2008 raid on his sect's compound.

Judge Walther is the same judge who approved the raid on Jeffs' compound that led to his eventual arrest and the charges against him.

Monday's filing by Jeffs included what he said were 29 orders from the Lord when they spoke last week, including one in which God sent "a crippling disease upon (Walther) which shall take her life soon."

Walther, the Associated Press reports, contracted polio when she was younger and walks with a limp.

"I, your Lord, say to you, I shall bring to light your evil intent now, before all people, to destroy my church on earth," Jeffs wrote in the filing.

Just as with the rulings in the previous two motions, the visiting judge denied Jeffs' claims that Walther is biased against the FLDS Church he leads, allowing Walther to continue the trial under the new Texas Supreme Court rules that no longer require an immediate hearing to recuse a judge after evidence in a case has been heard. Walther said a hearing would be held later. The new rules just went into effect Monday.

The delay in the trial on Monday came on the same day that Jeff's brother, Lyle Jeffs, appeared in court as a spectator for the first time, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune. Lyle Jeffs is the bishop of Short Creek, the branch of the FLDS church located in Utah-Colorado City, Ariz.

Silence, Then Outbursts From Jeffs

After choosing to defend himself and then spending hours in silence in court on Thursday, Jeffs released a series of outburst in court on Friday, warning court officials that if they don't stop prosecuting him on two counts of sexual assault of a child, they would face an even bigger problem -- the wrath of God.

After Judge Barbara Walther overruled Jeffs' objection to the proceedings against him, Jeffs, acting as his own lawyer, said he would read what he described as a statement from God. The judge dismissed the jury from the courtroom, and then Jeffs read the statement.

"I, the Lord God of heaven," Jeffs read, according to The Associated Press, "call upon the court to cease this open prosecution against my pure, holy way."

If officials did not halt the proceedings, the statement said, "I will send a scourge upon the counties of prosecutorial zeal to make humbled by sickness and death."

Walther said she'd remove Jeffs from the courtroom if he repeated the claim in front of jurors.

The statement from God capped a day featuring a nearly hour-long outburst by Jeffs, begun with a cry of "I object!" in court Friday afternoon, followed by a launch into a passionate sermon defending the "tradition" of polygamy, a practice he considers the will of God.

In opening statements the day before, Thursday, the only time the courtroom heard from the polygamist religious leader during was during a bizarre diatribe in which Jeffs spoke in sermon-like tones for 25 minutes on how his attorneys could not present a "pure defense."

After summarily firing his defense team, he sat alone, with his hands folded and head bowed, at the defense table, declining to make an opening statement, issue a plea or question witnesses.

Jeffs' Friday outburst occurred while FBI agent John Broadway was testifying about computers and documents seized from the sect's compound. Broadway was on the verge of describing a list of people living at Jeffs' compound when Jeffs spoke up, saying the trust given to religious leadership should "not be touched by government agencies."

During his 55-minute speech, Jeffs, acting as his own lawyer, said polygamy "is not [all] of a sudden happening, it is of a tradition in our lives. And how can we just throw it away and say 'God has not spoken?'"

"We are not a fly-by-night religious society," he said. "We are a community of faith and principles and those principles are so sacred. They belong to God, not to man and the governments of man."

The jurors listened carefully, but didn't react to Jeffs' words.

"We are derided for how we dress, how we go about our laborers in a common society," Jeffs said, insisting that the Texas authorities who had conducted the April 2008 raid targeted him and his followers because they look different.

He asked state Judge Walther to suspend the case and investigate whether his church's religious freedoms were violated, saying, "The government of the United States had no right to infringe on the religious freedom of a peaceful people."

After Jeffs had spoken for nearly an hour, lead prosecutor Eric Nichols said religious freedom does not extend to polygamy.

Jeffs attempted to interrupt, and continued to do so until Walther finally dismissed the jury, ordering Jeffs to speak with defense attorney Deric Walpole, who had been asked to remain present as standby counsel.

Jeffs' sect broke off from the mainstream Mormon Church 72 years ago. His 10,000 followers across North America consider him a prophet who serves as God's spokesman on earth.

Sect teachings emphasize that polygamy is the key to exaltation in heaven, and that young girls and women are to be obedient to their husbands and serve them "mind, body and soul" to achieve salvation in the afterlife.

On Thursday, the prosecution told jurors they have an audio tape of a sexual encounter between the 55-year-old Jeffs and a 12-year-old girl, and DNA evidence showing he impregnated a 15-year-old girl.

"The stakes are very high for Mr. Jeffs," ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams told "Good Morning America." "In almost all cases here someone decided to represent him or herself, it usually doesn't end well."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.