Sect Leader Warren Jeffs Defends Polygamy, Threatens Court With 'Sickness and Death' From God

The polygamist sect leader breaks his silence in court.

July 29, 2011, 4:30 PM

July 29, 2011— -- Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs may be the one on trial, but he told 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. After spending hours in silence at his trial Thursday, he suddenly cried, "I object!" in court Friday afternoon, launching into a passionate sermon defending the "tradition" of polygamy, a practice he considers the will of God.

Jeffs , the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, is on trial over charges leveled after a 2008 raid on his sect's compound.

He's 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.

Jeffs' sexual assault trial got off to an unusual start Thursday after the polygamist religious leader fired his entire defense team and then began a silent-treatment defense of his own, declining to make an opening statement, issue a plea or question witnesses.

The only time the courtroom heard from the polygamist religious leader during the first day of the trial 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."

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.

Warren Jeffs' Sexual Assault Trial

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.

Jeffs has switched attorneys frequently since his arrest. Seven attorneys have appeared on his behalf since December. The switches contributed to a six-month delay to the start of his trial.

"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.

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