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Legal expert: Jeffs' self-defense is a 'foolish' move

By Pat Reavy | Posted - Jul. 29, 2011 at 7:10 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Until Friday, it appeared as though Warren Jeffs' legal defense strategy in Texas was going to be putting on no defense at all.

Jeffs is on trial in San Angelo, Texas, on two counts of sexual assault of a child.

In a dramatic courtroom moment Thursday, Jeffs fired his high-powered defense team right before opening arguments. He asked Judge Barbara Walther if he could represent himself, and she eventually consented.

There's certain things you just don't do on your own. Defending yourself in a criminal case is one of them. It's certain to fail, its absolutely certain to fail.

–Greg Skourdas, attorney

Legal experts in Utah who are not involved with the Jeffs' trial, say the decision by the head of the FLDS Church to represent himself is not a good one.

"It's very, very foolish," said defense attorney Greg Skordas. "There's certain things you just don't do on your own. Defending yourself in a criminal case is one of them. It's certain to fail, its absolutely certain to fail."

Skordas gave his opinion on the case before Jeffs' long rant in court on Friday.

He noted that Jeffs was quite active in his legal defense in his Utah case. By not saying anything in his own defense in Texas, Skordas said one is left to assume that Jeffs doesn't believe he can win.

"He might think he's going to lose anyway so, 'I might as well go down as a martyr,'" Skordas said. "He may be thinking now, 'If you're going to lose, why not go down as a martyr?'"

The timing of his decision to represent himself was interesting, Skordas said. If Jeffs really wanted to be a martyr, he might have decided two weeks ago to represent himself, he said.


Skordas believes sitting and not putting up a defense at all would "turn off" a jury and likely result in a very fast guilty verdict.

If Jeffs is convicted and later tries to appeal, saying the judge should have given him more warning about representing himself, Skordas doesn't believe that will work.

"I'm sure this judge went through a very thorough dialogue with him, like an assumption of risk," Skordas said. "If he waives all that, he can't later appeal and say, 'I should have had those privileges.'"

Walther, in fact, told Jeffs when he asked to represent himself to rethink his proposal, saying, "You have assembled one of the most impressive legal teams this court has ever seen and perhaps ever seen in the state of Texas. ... I urge you not to follow this course of action."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who prosecuted Jeffs in Utah, says Jeffs was very involved in his earlier defense — but isn't surprised by this move.

"I think he's just convinced — and I've known this for a long time — that he's above the law," Shurtleff said.

Other high-profile defendants, like convicted murderer Ted Bundy, have tried to mount a self defense, often doing so despite warnings.

"I'll tell you that a lawyer who represents himself has got a fool for a client," Judge Edward Cowert, told Bundy.

The tactic didn't work for Bundy, who was ultimately found guilty and later executed.

Written by Pat Reavy with contributions from John Daley and The Associated Press.

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