Judge sets hearing date; Jeffs attorneys to argue for new trial

Judge sets hearing date; Jeffs attorneys to argue for new trial

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(AP Photo/Utah Dept. of Corrections)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A polygamous sect leader convicted of being an accomplice to rape will get a chance to argue that he deserves a new trial.

Fifth District Judge James Shumate on Thursday set a March 6 hearing for Warren Jeffs, leader of the southern Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Court papers filed Dec. 5 by Jeffs' attorneys asked for a second chance, saying unspecified "errors and improprieties" occurred during the four-day trial in September in St. George.

Defense attorneys have said that Jeffs' prosecution was religious persecution motivated by state officials who disapprove of polygamy, a central tenet of the FLDS faith.

Telephone messages left Friday for defense attorney Tara Isaacson and Washington County prosecutors were not immediately returned.

A jury found Jeffs, 52, guilty of two counts of rape by accomplice for his role in the 2001 arranged marriage of 14-year-old follower, Elissa Wall, to her 19-year-old cousin. Wall, now 21, said Jeffs used his church authority to coerce her into the marriage and sex by threatening her eternal salvation.

He is now serving two consecutive prison terms of five years to life in the Utah State Prison. The Associated Press does not generally identify people who allege sexual assaults, but Wall has repeatedly used her maiden name in public. She and her lawyer have declined to say what name she uses now.

Prosecutors have also charged her one-time husband, Allen Steed, with rape.

Earlier this month Jeffs announced his resignation as president of the church corporation in a statement released by his attorneys.

It remains unclear if he has also surrendered his religious authority over the estimated 6,000 church members who live mostly in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

Jeffs took over as head of the church in 2002 after the death of his father.

He also faces trials in Arizona on similar sexual misconduct charges stemming from church-arranged marriages of underage girls and is under federal in indictment in Utah for flight to avoid prosecution.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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