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Sealed documents released after sect leader's conviction

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Nov. 12, 2007  ·   Saying that he was "probably wrong" in his initial sealing order, District Judge James L.…

Nov. 12, 2007  ·   Saying that he was “probably wrong” in his initial sealing order, District Judge James L. Shumate in St. George unsealed evaluation reports and other documents last week related to the trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was found guilty by a jury on Sept. 25 of two charges of being an accomplice to rape. Shumate had announced earlier in response to a media coalition’s efforts to unseal the materials that they would be released once the trial was over.

According to a Salt Lake Tribune review of the materials, the documents show that Jeffs had tried to hang himself in jail, after repeatedly renouncing his position as a prophet in the sect. The documents included a mental evaluation that was conducted after Jeffs appeared depressed at a March pre-trial hearing.

In a hearing last week, Jeffs’ attorney had argued that releasing the documents would jeopardize his right to a fair trial in future criminal prosecutions in Arizona.

The Deseret Morning News reported that defense attorney Wally Bugden also asked the judge to consider the privacy rights of those who had spoken to Jeffs in jail and whose conversations were taped and transcribed by jail officials with their knowledge. But prosecutor Brock Belnap countered that releasing the documents would not taint a jury pool because the facts of his conviction were already known, the paper reported.

Shumate decided to unseal the documents immediately, denying a request by Budgen to delay release while he sought an appeal.

“I was probably wrong in sealing them,” Shumate said, according to a Tribune account of the hearing. “We were successful here in picking a jury, and there is no question it can be done” in Jeffs’ other trials in Arizona.

(Utah v. Jeffs; Media counsel: Brett Ekins, Jones Waldo, Salt Lake City)


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