PHOENIX — A lawyer for Warren Jeffs, the leader of a polygamous sect who was convicted in Utah for arranging a marriage between an underage woman and her cousin, said Monday that he will ask for a change of venue for his client’s related trial in Arizona.
Attorney Mike Piccarreta said Jeffs’ fate was sealed once a Utah judge refused to grant a change of venue for his trial there. Jeffs was tried and sentenced in the same Utah county where his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is based.
In Arizona, Jeffs faces four felony charges in a 2005 case involving marriages between two teenage girls and older men who were their relatives. He also is charged as an accomplice in four counts of incest and four counts of sexual contact with a minor.
Kingman, the Arizona city where prosecutors want to try Jeffs, is too close to St. George, where Jeffs was tried and convicted on the Utah charges, Piccarreta said. Kingman is in the same county as Colorado City where, along with its twin border town of Hildale, Utah, many FLDS members live.
“We just need a community with enough distance away from the previous trial so that we can get jurors that are neutral, and secondly, jurors who would not be criticized in the community if they rendered a fair verdict,” Piccarreta said.
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, whose office is prosecuting Jeffs on the Arizona charges, said holding the trial in Kingman would not be a problem.
“Until you see the motion, it’s kind of hard to speculate, but I think that anybody can get a fair trial anywhere in the country,” Smith said.
“I don’t think there’s necessarily that much more publicity in Mohave County than there is anywhere else on the Warren Jeffs case. It’s just a matter of questioning jurors individually.”
Jeffs, 51, was sentenced last week to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison for rape as an accomplice, the result of a marriage arranged for a 14-year-old follower and her 19-year-old cousin.
The mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago, excommunicates members who engage in the practice and disavows any connection with the FLDS church.