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Polygamist leader to appear in court

Harriet Ryan
Court TV
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ST. GEORGE, Utah (Court TV) -- Warren Jeffs, the polygamist sect leader who held a place on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list earlier this year, is set to appear in court Tuesday to learn what evidence prosecutors have connecting him to the alleged rape of a teenage girl.

The young woman, who has accused Jeffs of using his position as a religious leader to force her into an underage marriage in which she was repeatedly sexually assaulted, is to testify at the preliminary hearing in district court.

It will be the first legal proceeding to address the substance of the charges against Jeffs, 50, since his capture in Las Vegas, Nevada, in August after more than a year as a fugitive.

Washington County prosecutors have accused Jeffs, the Prophet or head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of marrying the alleged victim to an older man when she was a minor and then counseling her to submit to her husband's sexual demands or face eternal damnation.

He is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony.

At Tuesday's hearing, prosecutors must show they have probable cause that Jeffs committed the crimes. If, as expected, Fifth Judicial District Judge James Shumate determines the prosecution's evidence meets this standard, the case will continue toward trial.

Jeffs faces five years to life in prison if convicted.

The judge will also consider the issue of bail. Jeffs has been held without bail since he was extradited from Nevada to Utah in September, but the defense is expected to ask Shumate to set bail.

Authorities have described him as a proven flight risk who has access to millions in FLDS funds and a spokesman for the Washington County Attorney's office said prosecutors planned to oppose bail, no matter how high the amount.

"We'll be asking for him to be held without bail," said Brian Filter, senior deputy county attorney.

Filter said evidence that Jeffs is not a good candidate for bail will be part of the evidence pertaining to the alleged rape.

Prosecutors have closely guarded the identity of the alleged victim, a resident of Hildale, an FLDS town on the Arizona border. In court papers, prosecutors have concealed her name and age. The Associated Press reported last month that the charges stem from the 2001 marriage of a 14-year-old to a first cousin who was older than 18. A Salt Lake City attorney has said he represents the alleged victim and that she has filed a civil suit against the FLDS.

The judge issued a protective order last week barring the media from photographing the woman or members of her family at the courthouse. He also directed that video cameras normally used to make an official court record of a proceeding will be pointed away from her when she testifies.

In August, a young woman in Arizona who had accused Jeffs of ordering her into an underage marriage refused to repeat the account when she took the witness stand. Authorities there said they believed she bowed to pressure from her family and the FLDS community.

In court filings, prosecutors have indicated their case also rests on the accounts of two investigators as well as documents and recordings related to Jeffs and the FLDS.

Whichever witnesses testify, court officials said they were expecting a lengthy proceeding that could stretch into the evening.

Jeffs has the right to present evidence in his defense at the preliminary hearing, although it is rare for a defendant to do so. His attorney, Richard Wright, did not return phone calls. In very brief procedural hearings this fall, he has appeared via a videolink from the county jail and said little more than was required to answer the judge's questions about scheduling and the hiring of lawyers.

Jeffs also is facing statutory rape and conspiracy charges related to the arranging of underage marriages in Arizona. He is expected to stand trial there following the Utah case.

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