Utah Supreme Court to decide extradition appeal

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Supreme Court will consider a petition to block polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs' extradition to Texas to face charges of bigamy and sexual assault.

Jeffs, 54, is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints.

In court papers, defense attorneys argue that sending Jeffs to Texas before a long-running criminal case is resolved denies him the right to a speedy trial. They also objected to the conditions of an extradition agreement signed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Texas Gov. Rick Perry that would deny Jeffs bail in Texas.

Third District Judge Terry Christiansen denied the petition on Monday, saying he lacked the authority to overrule an extradition order approved and signed by the governor.

The state Court of Appeals issued a stay of the extradition the same day and the case was transferred to the Utah Supreme Court on Wednesday. It's not clear whether justices will hear oral arguments in the case.

The Utah attorney general's office contends Jeffs has no legal grounds to argue against extradition. In a response filed with the appeals court, the state prosecutors said extradition is a "power explicitly granted to the executive branch," and can't be decided by a judge.

Prosecutors also said the question of bail is moot because the laws that govern extradition agreements permit judges in the "demanding state" -- in this case Texas -- to set or deny bail.

Texas authorities have charged Jeffs with felony bigamy, aggravated sexual assault and assault for alleged spiritual marriage of underage girls at a church ranch near Eldorado. The charges stem from evidence gathered during a raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in April 2008.

Jeffs remains at the Utah State Prison, 50 months after his arrest, prosecution and conviction on two charges of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage of an underage follower -- then 14 -- to her 19-year-old cousin.

In July, the Utah Supreme overturned the 2007 convictions and sent the case back to the 5th District Court in St. George, although prosecutors have yet to decide whether they'll retry Jeffs. A rehearing of the case before the Utah Supreme Court is pending.

Defense attorneys argue that sending him to Texas could delay the resolution of the Utah case for years.

Prosecutors say Jeffs' right for a speedy trial isn't an argument against extradition. They contend that only the 5th District judge who initially heard the case can decide the issue.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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