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Prosecution rests as Warren Jeffs takes up own defense

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SAN ANGELO, Texas — The trial of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs headed toward a conclusion Wednesday as the jury heard an audio recording of Jeffs apparently in the act of sexually assaulting of a 12-year-old girl.

A second incriminating recording

An audio recording released Tuesday displayed Jeffs teaching his plural wives how to have group sex to please the Lord. Listeners had widely varying interpretation whether the sounds of any actual sexual activity were heard.


The recording played Wednesday is much more compelling. Jeffs is heard in a murmur that's difficult to make out. He speaks in his characteristic clipped, meandering style, disconnected phrases, with long stretches of rhythmic, sometimes heavy breathing.

The audio itself isn't enough to convict, but the prosecution displayed written records and Jeffs' own printed words about the sexual encounter. It makes a case that the jury actually heard Jeffs, assisted by two other women, having sex in the FLDS Temple with a girl just a month after her 12th birthday.

A little girl's soft, childish voice is heard once or twice, just a word or two. Evidence strongly suggests that was the 12-year-old girl taken as a plural wife by Jeffs when she was 12 years and 3 weeks old.

On the recording, Jeffs uses religious phrases, referring to the girl as a "heavenly comfort wife" and to the sexual encounter as a "heavenly session." The prosecution has put on evidence that those are Jeffs' code words for sex.

As it continued for 21 minutes, Jeffs referred frequently to God.

"His power, feel his presence," Jeffs murmured. "Witness the fire from Heaven."

"Oh Lord, our God in Heaven," he continues. "I thank you for these gifts, for the all-consuming fire in your presence."

Following that dramatic high point, the prosecution immediately rested it's case.

Jeffs' defense

As Jeffs began his opening arguments, he chose not to contest the evidence or even to mention the charges. Instead, he gave a 30-minute speech on history and religious persecution.

Jeffs called a single witness, a member of his own church and kept him on the stand for hours. Under questioning from Jeffs, J.D. Roundy professed his FLDS faith and read from Mormon scripture.

Jeffs called a single witness, a member of his own church and kept him on the stand for hours. Under questioning from Jeffs, J.D. Roundy professed his FLDS faith and read from Mormon scripture.

Jeffs' questions were halting, meandering and confusing; dealing with points of faith and history.

The prosecutor repeatedly objected it was all irrelevant to the sex charges, and he angrily accused Jeffs of trying to throw his own witness "under the bus." By pushing his follower to admit he believes in or practices polygamy, Jeffs could have exposed his witness to criminal charges.

Judge Barbara Walther warned Jeffs about that and repeatedly threatened to cut off his defense as irrelevant. She also warned him about long pauses — some as long as 4 minutes between questions. Jeffs often seemed lost in his own thoughts.

Leaving the courthouse, Jeffs was heckled by a local Texas member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "You're not a prophet! You're the devil!" Liz Jackson shouted.

"Warren Jeffs tried unsuccessfully today to manipulate and to lie about the Mormon doctrine in a way to imply that Mormons believe in abusing children in a sexual way," Jackson told reporters, "and that is not at all the case."

The judge is allowing Jeffs one more chance Thursday morning to find a relevant defense. The one he's offering is obviously boring the jury. And, as the judge pointed out, this trial is not about religious laws, it's about the law of the state of Texas.



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John Hollenhorst


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