Texas Trial Of Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs Begins

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In the Texas trial of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, the suspect fired his lawyer and told the judge in the case that he wants to defend himself. The proceedings went forward Thursday, with plenty of dramatic moments.


In Texas, the trial of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs got off to a dramatic start yesterday. The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is charged with sexually assaulting two girls - one was 12 years old at the time. NPR's Wade Goodwyn was in the courtroom in San Angelo.

WADE GOODWYN: The drama began the minute the Judge Barbara Walther walked into her courtroom yesterday morning, 30 minutes late. She had a strange look on her face, indecipherable. Within seconds everyone understood why. Warren Jeffs lead counsel, Deric Walpole, stood up and announced to the world that he and every other defense lawyer had been fired by Warren Jeffs, who insisted that he was going to represent himself. The revelation sent reporters in the courtroom heading for the exits.

Judge�Walther did all she could to talk Jeffs out of his decision. You have assembled one of the most impressive legal teams this court has ever seen, perhaps ever seen in the whole state of Texas, Walther said. I urge you not to follow this unwise course of action. It is still my determination to represent myself, Jeffs replied.

The judges words of warning then turned to threats. For months Jeffs has hired and fired his lawyers, asking for my time to allow his new counsel to prepare, only to fire that new counsel as hearings ensued.

I will not give you another continuance, Judge Walther said with a tone of defiance. Doesnt that change your mind about self representation? But Jeffs could not be swayed and neither could the judge. Walther had had enough, the trial would proceed immediately. The jury was summoned and sworn in.

Just what Jeffs was thinking soon became apparent. After a brief opening statement by prosecutor Eric Nichols outlining the extensive evidence the jury would hear, the judge turned to Warren Jeffs for his opening statement and the courtroom held its collective breath. And waited. And waited. Jeffs sat there, head bowed as if�in prayer, silent.

Judge Walther, now determined, also sat silent. The jurors watched with expectation and as the seconds stretched on, their expressions began to change as one by one they realized that Jeffs would not say anything.

Mr. Jeffs, do you wish to make an opening statement, Walther finally injected. Nothing. Finally the judge announced that in lieu of an opening statement she was reserving Jeffs' right to make an opening statement later in the proceedings, a forlorn hope.

As the prosecution began to present its case, it became clear that there would be no defense at all. Jeffs sat alone at his table, head bowed, looking down, looking at no one. When prosecutors admitted evidence and brought that evidence to the defense table, Jeffs never even glanced.

Walthers frustration began to mount. Do you have any objection, Mr. Jeffs? Ill take your silence to mean no, the evidence is admitted.

As the prosecutions case steamrolled along, no defense cross examination of prosecutions witnesses, no objections, nothing at all, finally it was too much for Judge Walther. She stopped the trial and sent the jury out of the room.

You have sat there for an hour now, and not said a word. It is well established law that you cannot invoke your right to self representation to delay this trial.

I object to any further proceedings, Jeffs responded. The court overrules your objections, Walther replied.

The judge repeatedly pleaded with Jeffs to reconsider his stubborn self destruction,�a look of resignation on her face. Despite her determination not to be manipulated, by the end of the day, Jeffs�had turned her trial into a one sided farce - casting himself in the role of martyr. �

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, San Angelo, Texas. �

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