SAN ANGELO, Texas Aug. 3, 2011 -- In an audio tape played today at the trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, jurors heard the religious leader allegedly having sex with a 12-year-old girl and telling her to feel "the spirit of God."
The recording was the final piece of evidence offered by the prosecution before resting its case in the sexual assault trial against Jeffs.
Jeffs, the leader of a radical sect of Mormonism know as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), is on trial for two counts of sexual assault of a child. He is accused of forcing two teenage girls into "spiritual marriage," and fathering a child with one of them when she was 15. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Jeffs, who is acting as his own lawyer, began his defense by speaking at length about religious freedom, but Judge Barbara Walther interrupted him and said Jeffs clearly wasn't prepared to enter a defense. Walther told Jeffs he had two choices: rest his case or begin calling witnesses.
Jeffs had previously requested more time to prepare his defense, but the judge denied the request, saying she warned him about the difficulties of acting as his own attorney. Jeffs has a standby attorney who is only allowed to offer help and advice if Jeffs asks for it.
Jeffs entered the Book of Mormon and the Bible into evidence and then asked his first witness, a fellow FLDS member, to read at length verses from the Book of Mormon.
Some members of the jury were visibly irritated with Jeffs' tactic of having his witness read from religious texts. One juror continually glanced at a clock in the courtroom, while others yawned and closed their eyes.
When the prosecution questioned the relevance of the testimony, Judge Walther told Jeffs: "I guess the court doesn't understand your defense. How is that relevant to the charges you face?"
Before Jeffs' defense began, the prosecution presented its last piece of evidence: a graphic audio recording played for the judge and jury. In it, Jeffs can be heard offering prayer and telling the girl - who he refers to as his "heavenly comfort wife" - to "feel his presence ... the spirit of God."
The girl can be heard speaking very briefly, and other sounds on the tape suggest the two were having sex.
Warren Jeffs Heard on Tape Allegedly Having Sex With 12-Year-Old
The tape is one of several seized by police and submitted as evidence in the case against Jeffs. On Tuesday, prosecutors played three other tapes prosecutors say prove Jeffs "married" and assaulted underaged girls.
In the recordings played Tuesday, Jeffs is heard saying that "a good wife is trained for her husband and follows the spirit of peace." He also makes reference to "drawing close" or "being close," which is how church members refer to sex, and two females can be heard responding "OK."
According to Jeffs' journals, the tape was made the night after his wedding to a 14-year-old, when Jeffs took his new bride and another wife for a car ride to instruct them on their new responsibilities as wives. He told them they were "honorable vessels, property of your husband's kingdom and the Kingdom of God on Earth." The 14-year-old is the same girl who, according to expert testimony on DNA evidence, Jeffs later impregnated.
During his testimony, Texas Ranger Nick Hanna read from the religious leader's journals, which were seized from the FLDS compound. In the journals, Jeff's wrote that his young bride was "pure and innocent and willing to obey," and that he told her parents that "their girl belong[ed] to me."
Prosecutors later played another clip of a different "training session" involving 12 girls, but Jeffs stood up and loudly spoke over the tape, talking about how a holy trust was being broken. The judge and jurors were wearing headphones to listen to the tape, and ignored Jeffs' rambling.
On the tape, they heard Jeffs telling the girls "you have to know how to excite sexually and be excited," and telling the girls to shower and wear white robes when they come to him, as well as telling them to shave their pubic hair. He concluded by singing the prayer "Father, Son and Holy Ghost." In the courtroom, Jeffs remained standing in objection throughout the playing of the tape.
This was one of many outbursts by Jeffs during the course of the trial. Jeffs, who is representing himself after firing his entire defense team last week, has continued to interrupt the trial by making frequent objections, often on grounds of religious freedom. Each objection so far has been overruled by the judge.
Prosecution Rests in Case of Polygamist Warren Jeffs
In a nearly hour-long speech on Monday, Jeffs argued that the entire trial was infringing on his religious freedoms and he defended the practice of polygamy. He also read what he called a statement to him from God, which demanded officials halt proceedings, saying, "I will send a scourge upon the counties of prosecutorial zeal to make humbled by sickness and death." Judge Walther removed the jury during Jeffs' speech and warned him not to repeat the claim in front of jurors.
Walther and Jeffs have repeatedly clashed during the course of the trial. Walther was the judge who approved the 2008 raid on Jeffs' compound that eventually led to his arrest and the current trial. Jeffs called her a "woman of evil intent," and has tried three times to have her removed from the case. All three times his attempts have been denied.
This sexual assault trial is over charges leveled against Jeffs following the raid on his sect's compound in the small town of Eldorado in west-central Texas. A call to a domestic abuse hotline spurred the raid and resulted in the removal of more than 400 children from their homes on the ranch compound. That led to the current charges against Jeffs and 11 other FLDS men.
Jeffs' sect broke off from the mainstream Mormon Church 72 years ago, and has more than 10,000 followers who consider Jeffs a prophet who serves as God's spokesman on earth. Sect teachings emphasize polygamy as a key to exaltation in heaven, and Jeffs paired up women and girls with men on the compound in "spiritual marriages." The religion also teaches that young girls and women must be obedient to their husbands.
Jeffs is set to face a separate trial on a bigamy charge in October.