4 incest charges dropped against polygamist sect leader
KINGMAN, Arizona (AP) ” An Arizona judge dropped four of eight charges against polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs on Wednesday, saying a state incest law does not apply to the arranged marriages of two teenage girls and their older male relatives.
Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steven Conn dismissed the charges at the request of the defense, finding that the incest law only applies if both participants in the sexual activity are older than 18, and that the law does not apply to half cousins.
In both of the marriages Jeffs is accused of arranging, the girls were under 18 and were their husbands’ half cousins. He was charged with incest as an accomplice.
“We’re obviously very pleased with the court’s ruling,” Jeffs’ attorney, Mike Piccarreta, told The Associated Press. “You can see we’ve chopped these things down considerably.”
Jeffs, who was already prosecuted in Utah, is still charged in Arizona as an accomplice with four counts of sexual conduct with a minor stemming from the marriages of the two girls.
If convicted of all charges, he could face anywhere from probation to eight years in prison. Before the incest charges were dropped Wednesday and two others were dropped in March, Jeffs faced up to 27 years in prison.
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, the prosecutor in the case, did not return a call or e-mail request for comment Wednesday evening.
In his ruling, Conn wrote that Arizona’s incest law initially was enacted without reference to participants’ ages. In 1985, it was amended to apply only to people who were 15 years or older, and in 1998, it was changed to its present form, applying only to those 18 or older.
The prosecution had argued that the law can lead to absurd results, such as an uncle having sex with two nieces, one younger and one older than 18, and being subject to harsher punishments for his conduct with the older one.
Conn wrote that he doesn’t necessarily disagree that the scenario would have an absurd result, but said the Arizona law is both clear and unambiguous, leaving no room for interpretation.
Conn also wrote that because the incest law specifically mentions half brothers and sisters, it arguably excludes all other relationships of the half blood by not mentioning them.
In March, Conn dismissed two other charges against Jeffs at the request of the prosecution because the alleged victim in the case, although previously cooperative, refused to testify against the sect leader.
Jeffs, 52, was named president, or prophet, of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 2002. Members of the church live in the twin border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
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.
Jeffs was convicted last year in Utah of rape as an accomplice in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He was sentenced to two terms of five years to life in prison.
Jeffs remains jailed in Kingman as he awaits his Arizona trial. No date has been set.
Piccarreta said he has filed a motion to remand the remaining charges against Jeffs to the grand jury.
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