SAN ANGELO, Texas — Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs remained mute during a Wednesday arraignment on bigamy and child sex abuse charges, forcing the West Texas court to enter not guilty pleas on his behalf.
The 55-year-old ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sat and said nothing as prosecutors read a sexual assault charge accusing him of having sex with a girl younger than 17. He was then ordered to stand down as cases accusing him of aggravated sexual assault of a girl younger than 15 and bigamy were read.
District Judge Barbara Walther instructed Jeffs that his silence forced the court to enter not guilty pleas for him.
The charges against Jeffs stem from a 2008 raid of the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado. Authorities seized 439 children and placed them in state custody.
Most of the children were eventually returned to their families, but seven men in the sect who see Jeffs as their spiritual leader were charged and eventually convicted of child sexual assault and abuse.
On Wednesday, Jeffs sat by himself at the defense table. He has been unable to hire a Texas attorney since he was extradited from Utah, where he was convicted on accomplice rape charges, a ruling that was later overturned.
Jeffs told Walther that he wanted to find his own attorney, rather than have one appointed. He has identified the firm he wants to represent him and that they were still hammering out the details.
In the meantime, prosecutors have been speaking to Richard Wright, a Las Vegas attorney who represented Jeffs in Utah and Arizona but is not licensed in Texas. Wright sat in the courtroom gallery Wednesday, after his petition for temporary admission to the Texas bar was turned down.