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SALT LAKE CITY — The trial of Warren Jeffs is being closely followed in Utah by a number of groups, including law enforcement agencies, other polygamists and former members Utah's various polygamist sects. Some see the Texas trial as a potential watershed event.
The trial is providing a high-profile, and perhaps unprecedented window into the secret world of one polygamist sect. So says Rowenna Erickson, co-founder of the former watchdog group called Tapestry Against Polygamy.
All of this is educating the world on what really is involved in polygamy.
–Rowenna Erickson, former polygamist
"All of this is educating the world on what really is involved in polygamy," Erickson says.
She was born into polygamy, part of the Kingston clan. She left the group years ago and now is one of the practice's sharpest critics. She also counsels others who have left polygamist sects.
Jeffs, on the other hand, calls his trial a religious persecution. But he and his followers kept vast, meticulous records: papers, audio recordings and photos documenting FLDS activities and Jeffs' teachings.
Erickson says the detailed testimony resonates with others who've seen or heard similar stories. "I think a lot of us are just shocked and awed about what he's done with his wives, the recordings and the filming of the events," she says.
The Utah Supreme Court threw out an earlier ruling that convicted Jeffs of being an accomplice to rape — a case that awaits retrial.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap says he finds news from the Texas trial "interesting," and said he wouldn't rule out trying to use some of the Texas evidence not available to prosecutors in the Utah case a few years back.
Meanwhile, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says once the trial has wrapped up, he's very interested in getting evidence from this case sent to Utah.
"I'm just anxious to get the trial, these trials, over; so then we can have our crack at the evidence," Shurtleff said.
He says he doesn't know of evidence of underage marriages in Utah, but there may be evidence of financial crime.
"We've long suspected financial crimes, white-collar stuff — tax evasion, welfare fraud — that we haven't been able to prove with the evidence available to us," Shurtleff said.
The attorney general says his office has asked Texas prosecutors to share the more than 1 billion seized documents with Utah authorities.