ST. GEORGE — Attorneys for jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs will be in court Thursday seeking a new trial for the 52-year-old spiritual leader of a polygamist sect now embroiled in a massive child custody case in Texas.
On Wednesday, 5th District Judge James Shumate denied a motion filed by Jeffs' defense team to delay the hearing that has been on the court docket since January.
Las Vegas attorney Richard Wright sought the continuance in a motion filed Tuesday. In it, Wright asks Shumate to consider a separate motion to subpoena jurors who convicted Jeffs last year on two counts of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. Shumate did not rule Wednesday on that motion.
Jeffs is seeking the subpoenas so attorneys can ask jury members at what point the group reached its verdict on the two charges in the case — was it before, during or after a juror was dismissed and an alternate juror selected?
The question of timing is raised because the original jury said it was deadlocked on the second count, without informing the judge if it had reached a decision on the first count. Shumate asked the jury to continue deliberations before sending them home for the night.
The next morning, one of the jurors told Shumate that another member of the jury had lied on the jury questionnaire. That juror, who admitted she failed to disclose a sexual abuse experience on the questionnaire or during one-on-one interviews with the attorneys, was dismissed and an alternate juror seated. The jury returned a guilty verdict on both counts less than three hours later.
"The issue of whether the original jury reached a partial verdict on Sept. 24, 2007, is critical to a fair and thorough determination as to whether the erroneous juror substitution impaired the integrity of the jury deliberative process," Jeffs' motion states in seeking the subpoenas.
In his motion for a new trial, Jeffs argues that "errors and improprieties" occurred that substantially affected his right to a fair trial. The defense team also objects to a portion of the jury instructions allowed by Shumate.
Jeffs' conviction last year stemmed from his role in conducting a spiritual marriage in 2001 between an unwilling 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison.
Jeffs is also the father of an unknown number of children now in state custody in Texas. He is currently awaiting trial on similar charges in Arizona and will not attend Thursday's hearing.