Former LDS general authority George P. Lee withdrew his request Monday that a non-LDS judge preside over his upcoming sex-abuse trial.
Lee filed a motion in May asking that 3rd District Judge Kenneth Rigtrup disqualify himself from the case because he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lee said he feared he would not receive a fair and impartial trial because of potential bias and prejudice and asked that any other LDS judges be disqualified from the case."I am a former member of the Council of the Seventy, was excommunicated, and since that time I have made statements derogatory to the church," Lee wrote.
Rigtrup said he had read news accounts of Lee's 1989 excommunication and read quotes from Lee that were critical of the LDS Church but feels he could still impartially preside over a trial. The judge, however, offered to disqualify himself because of "the presence of the appearance of possible bias."
But after consulting with 3rd District Judge Michael Murphy, Rigtrup said the allegations of disqualification were insufficient and declined to step aside.
Defense attorney Ron Yengich said his client's request to have all LDS judges disqualified was denied and they decided to keep Rigtrup as the judge.
"I think we both believe he can be fair," Yengich said. "We raised it as an appearance-of-fairness issue."
Lee's trial has been rescheduled for Oct. 11. He is charged with aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge and has repeatedly denied the allegations.
A former neighbor, now 16, testified last year that "Brother Lee" sexually abused her from the time she was 9 years old. She testified of several fondling incidents and said Lee told her he had fallen in love with her and that the Lord had told him it was OK.
Yengich said the topic of religion will still likely surface when a jury is selected in October. "We will want to know whether there is any religious bias against him," Yengich said.
Lee, who became the first general authority in 46 years to be excommunicated from the church, is one of eight candidates running for the presidency of the Navajo Nation.