Defense says media coverage hurts case

A defense lawyer argued Friday that media exposure and other flaws tainted grand jury proceedings that led to the criminal indictment of polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs. Mike Piccarreta said two Arizona cases against Jeffs should be remanded back to the panel for a new determination of probable cause.

Piccarreta labeled as insufficient the prosecution effort to ensure a fair and impartial presentation to members of the grand jury panel that indicted Jeffs, 52. He argued transcripts reflect that grand jurors who handed up indictments in Kingman in the spring of 2007 conceded personal exposure to media coverage of Jeffs.

“It was very prejudicial. There were comments, there were interviews, there were television shows,” said Piccarreta, claiming he was shocked by the pervasive negative publicity even before he was hired to represent Jeffs. “There seemed to be no semblance of any balanced, fair reporting.”

Mohave County attorney Matt Smith conceded there was extensive publicity but countered that grand jurors were admonished on repeated occasions to recuse themselves if they could not be fair and impartial in their charging deliberations and decisions. Smith argued the instruction to weed out bias was effective because two grand jurors did opt out on the Jeffs case.

Jeffs paid close attention to Piccarreta during the proceeding attended by 15 of his followers — nine well-dressed men in coat and tie ensembles and six women wearing traditional pastel-colored prairie dresses. The handcuffed Jeffs, smiling occasionally, appeared in a standard jail jumpsuit with a flak jacket over his chest.

Attorneys also debated if the grand jury was offered incorrect facts about the practice of polygamy by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, and if Jeffs could legally perform marriages.

Smith said the state “went above and beyond” its obligations while Piccarreta offered that the presentations against Jeffs were as flawed and unfair as he’s seen in the grand jury arena. Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steve Conn took the remand motion under advisement and said he would issue a ruling early next week.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah on charges of rape as an accomplice. He was sentenced to two consecutive five years to life in prison terms in Utah before he was transported to Kingman for trial in Arizona.

The FLDS church led by Jeffs has several thousand members living in the border straddling communities of Colorado City, in Arizona, and Hildale in Utah. Other members also reside at the FLDS ranch in Eldorado, Texas that was the subject of a controversial raid earlier this year.

Piccarreta told Conn on Friday that he’ll move to suppress any evidence gathered in Texas in the prosecution of Jeffs in Arizona. He said the motion to preclude should be filed within two weeks.

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