August 28

This Day in History

Crime

Aug 28, 2006:

Fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is arrested

On this day in 2006, Warren Jeffs, the leader of a polygamist sect of Mormons, is arrested by a highway patrol officer during a traffic stop in Nevada. At the time of his arrest, Jeffs was facing charges in Arizona and Utah of arranging marriages between men and underage girls. The 50-year-old self-proclaimed prophet had been on the run from the law for more than a year and was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

After his father’s death in 2002, Jeffs assumed leadership of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a group that practices polygamy. The group, which is estimated to have around 10,000 members, a number of them based in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, is a radical breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, which banned polygamy in 1890.

In September 2007, a jury in Utah convicted Jeffs on two counts of first-degree felony rape as an accomplice for his part in arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old first cousin. At trial, the girl testified she was forced to wed her cousin, and then forced to have sex with him against her will. When she asked Jeffs to release her from the union, he reportedly instructed her to submit to her husband, “mind, body and soul.” A Utah judge later sentenced Jeffs to two consecutive terms of five years to life in state prison.


In 2008, state authorities raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, a compound Jeffs founded for his followers in 2004. Acting on a series of tips, Texas officials removed over 400 children from the compound on suspicions they were being abused. The children spent several months in temporary state custody before Texas courts ordered them returned to the ranch, stating they weren’t at immediate risk of abuse. However, more than half a dozen men from the sect were eventually convicted of child sexual assault and abuse. 

In July 2010, the Utah Supreme Court reversed Jeffs’ 2007 convictions on the grounds that the jury in his trial had received faulty instructions. However, in December of that same year, Jeffs was extradited to Texas to stand trial on charges of sexual assault. In August 2011, a jury convicted him of child sexual assault in a case involving a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl whom he had wed in what his church referred to as spirtual marriages. Jeffs, who fathered a child with the 15-year-old, was sentenced to life in prison. 

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