Utah court clears way for extradition of polygamous sect leader to Texas


SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Supreme Court said Tuesday it won't block polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs' extradition to Texas for trial on bigamy and sexual assault charges.

The court denied Jeffs' appeal and lifted a stay a lower court had imposed last week keeping him in Utah.

Jeffs, 54, is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Southern Utah-based church practices polygamy in arranged marriages that have involved underage girls.

In court papers, defense attorneys argued that sending Jeffs to Texas before a long-running criminal case in Utah is resolved denies him the right to a speedy trial.

Jeffs' lawyers also objected to the conditions of an extradition agreement signed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Texas Gov. Rick Perry that would deny Jeffs bail in Texas.

The Utah attorney general's office contended that Jeffs had no legal grounds to argue against extradition. In a response filed with the appeals court, the state prosecutors said extradition is a "power explicitly granted to the executive branch" and can't be decided by a judge.

Prosecutors also said the question of bail is moot because the laws that govern extradition agreements permit judges in the "demanding state" -- in this case Texas -- to set or deny bail.

Texas authorities have charged Jeffs with felony bigamy, aggravated sexual assault and assault on allegations of spiritual marriages of underage girls at a church ranch near Eldorado. The charges stem from evidence gathered during a raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in April 2008.

Jeffs remains at the Utah State Prison, more than four years after his arrest, prosecution and conviction on two charges of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage of an underage follower to her 19-year-old cousin.

In July, the Utah Supreme overturned the 2007 convictions and sent the case back to District Court in St. George. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether they will retry Jeffs. A rehearing of the case before the Utah Supreme Court is pending.

Defense attorneys argued that sending him to Texas could delay the resolution of the Utah case for years.

Prosecutors say Jeffs' right to a speedy trial isn't an argument against extradition.

 

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