The leader of a polygamist sect was escorted into a courthouse under heavy security Tuesday for a hearing to determine if he will be tried on charges he forced a teenage girl to marry an older man.
Police sharpshooters were posted on red rock hills that ring the Washington County courthouse for the arrival of Warren Jeffs, who was among the FBI’s most wanted fugitives until his capture in Las Vegas in August. No vehicles were allowed to park on the street outside the building.
Authorities were taking every precaution against possible disruptions, said St. George police Sgt. Craig Harding.
Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with rape as an accomplice in the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old first cousin in 2001.
The bride, identified only as Jane Doe No. 4, objected to the marriage and later begged to be released, according to court documents. But Jeffs told the girl it was her religious duty to marry and produce children, prosecutors contend.
At a hearing in September, defense attorney Walter Bugden said Jeffs believes he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
Fifth District Judge James Shumate was to hear evidence and decide whether there’s reason to send Jeffs to trial. Jeffs could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Jeffs’ church represents itself as a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church, but the Mormons disavow any connection and renounced polygamy more than a century ago.