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Thursday
Jul282011

Warren Jeffs Dismisses Attorneys, Delays Start of Polygamy Trial

Comstock/Thinkstock(SAN ANGELO, TEXAS) -- Polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs asked the judge overseeing his sexual assault trial that he be allowed to represent himself, seeking to again fire his attorneys and prompting yet another delay just as the proceedings were about to begin.

Opening statements in the much-anticipated trial against Jeffs were set to begin Friday, July 28th after the conclusion of a hearing requested by his attorneys over a motion to suppress evidence seized by authorities during Jeffs' 2006 arrest at a traffic stop on a Nevada highway.

Walther called a recess to consider Jeffs' request.

Jeffs, the 55-year-old head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), faces charges he sexually assaulted two underage girls, ages 17 and 12, both of whom he later married. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. He faces a separate trial on a bigamy charge in October.

In the trial, prosecutors are expected to tell the jury -- composed of 10 women, two men and two alternates, a man and a woman -- that Jeffs sexually assaulted the girls and forced them each into a "spiritual marriage." The defense is expected to counter that their client's religious freedoms were trampled.

During jury selection earlier in the week, Jeffs' lead attorney, Deric Walpole, gave a preview of his client's planned defense, saying, "my client's right to practice religion as he sees fit is in jeopardy."

The charges Jeffs faces stem from an April 2008 police raid on a compound known as the "Yearning For Zion" ranch run by FLDS, an offshoot sect of the mainstream Mormon Church. The ranch is located outside Eldorado, Texas, a town about 45 miles south of the city of San Angelo, where the trial is being held.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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