Polygamist heard on tape training girls for sex
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) — Prosecutors seeking life in prison for convicted polygamist leader Warren Jeffs closed their case with a final barrage of graphic audiotapes, records of 24 alleged underage brides and writings that ordered followers to “fight to the death” when police eventually came for him.
The same jury that convicted Jeffs last week of sexually assaulting two of his child “brides” could now hand down their punishment early as Tuesday. Even in prison, he could continue to lead the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Among the final pieces of evidence was an audiotape of Jeffs having sex and one of him telling five girls to “set aside all your inhibitions” as he gives his child brides instructions on how to please him sexually.
Jeffs’ attorneys rested without calling any witnesses as the sentencing phase drew to a close. Jurors will begin deliberating Tuesday following closing arguments.
Jeffs, 55, is considered God’s spokesman on Earth and a prophet among his 10,000 followers. He again boycotted the sentencing phase of his trial Monday, choosing to remain in another room of the courthouse.
Jurors also saw a wedding photo of Jeffs intimately kissing a 16-year-old “spiritual” wife. The girl’s hair was combed high in a tight bun and her body covered by the same long sleeve, prairie-style dress that have come to identify FLDS women.
“Pure Innocence. Pure Obedience. Pure Heavenly Happiness!” the caption on the photo collage read.
Deric Walpole, Jeffs’ attorney, has indicated that his plea for leniency during closing arguments will focus on Jeffs being a product of his environment and a culture that hasn’t changed for centuries.
Prosecutors, however, say it was Jeffs who radically changed the FLDS culture after rising to power in 2002. Former church members have testified how Jeffs outlawed dances and banned books. Men also began marrying younger and younger girls after Jeffs succeeded his father as FLDS president, formed FLDS member Ezra Draper has testified.
In a graphic 10-minute audiotape played for jurors Monday, Jeffs is heard telling the girls that what “the five of you are about to do is important.” The recording ends with him asking the girls if his instructions are detailed enough. The voices of at least two girls responded, “Yes.”
Several jurors squirmed or wiped away tears during the sometimes-scratchy recording, which an FBI agent said was made before they all had sex together.
Jeffs kept meticulous records — as jurors found out during the conviction phase of the trial. Last week, they heard a tape of what prosecutors said was Jeffs sexually assaulting the 12-year-old victim.
Prosecutors also showed jurors a page taken from one of Jeffs’ personal journals.
“If the world knew what I was doing, they would hang me from the highest tree,” Jeffs wrote in 2005.
In all, investigators collected 6 terabytes of digital evidence, and carried off hundreds of boxes from the FLDS ranch in Texas in 2008. It led to nearly 400 children being temporarily swept up in what became one of the largest U.S. child custody cases in history, though all were eventually returned to their families.
The raid of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, however, still led to the charges against Jeffs and several of his followers. In the personal journals shown to jurors Monday, Jeffs indicated he knew that day was likely coming.
Jeffs ordered his followers “to fight to death” if police tried entering the sacred temple on the ranch. Other times, Jeffs crisscrossed the country trying to evade capture and tried changing his appearance, in ways that were in jarring contrast to the traditionally modest, conservative style of FLDS members.
A picture taken in Boston shows Jeffs smiling in a novelty T-shirt that reads “One Size Fits All,” with a Guinness beer baseball hat on his head. Another shows Jeffs riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, decked out in a leather jacket. In a letter to followers, he tells his lieutenants they will “have to hide the Porsche” if authorities come looking.
Prosecutors showed records, also gathered from the ranch, that Jeffs had 78 wives. Not counting his own wives, Jeffs officiated or was a witness to 550 illegal marriages, according to state investigators.
FBI agent John Broadway testified that fathers who gave their young daughters to Jeffs — their prophet — were rewarded with young brides of their own. Girls who proved reluctant to have sex with Jeffs were sent away, according to other journal excerpts.
“If they wanted to not be rejected by God, then the new laws (Jeffs) was introducing was requiring them to participate in these sessions,” Broadway said.
The polygamist leader spent years evading arrest, eventually making the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list before his capture in 2006, prosecutors said. A state investigator testified that Jeffs visited 23 states over nearly a year while eluding authorities.
Jeffs also allegedly excommunicated 60 church members he saw as a threat to his leadership, breaking up 300 families while stripping them of property and “reassigning” wives and children.