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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge will decide whether to delay a trial for a Fundamentalist LDS Church leader accused of welfare fraud and fleeing custody.
An attorney for Lyle Jeffs argued Thursday in U.S. District Court that she needs time for her client to have a neurological exam because of two brain injuries he suffered 20 years ago.
Public defender Kathryn Nester told Judge Ted Stewart that she doesn't expect Jeffs to be found incompetent to stand trial but he might have some permanent brain damage and memory loss. She asked for the Sept. 18 trial to be postponed until January.
Prosecutor Rob Lund objected to the long delay. He said this is the first time the defense has raised Jeffs' brain injuries since he was arrested in February 2016. He said the government, the defense and the public deserves a timely resolution to the high-profile case.
"The delay was caused by the defendant and the defendant alone by his flight" from custody, Lund said.
Nester said she just learned about the injuries three weeks ago and has had difficulty tracking down medical records from a 1997 construction accident and a 1998 car crash. Jeffs, she said, might have been in a coma after the traffic accident and had to undergo rehabilitative therapy.
Lund said he is amenable to starting the trial in late October. He told the judge prosecutors plan to call 25 witnesses and enter 200 exhibits.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have narrowed down the hundreds of thousands of documents in the case, but there are still thousands of pages of evidence, Nester said. Also, getting information from the FLDS community isn't easy, she said.
"This case is unique in a lot of ways. We've tried to be respectful of our client's cloistered, private lifestyle," she said.
The trial is scheduled for two weeks, but Nester said she expects it would take a month.
Stewart took the issues under advisement.
Prosecutors allege Jeffs masterminded a food stamp fraud scheme that resulted in the misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits. Jeffs escaped home confinement and spent a year on the run before being captured in June. He is being held in the Tooele County Jail.