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Appeals court halts extradition of polygamist leader

By the CNN Wire Staff
Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs' extradition to Texas has been halted.
Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs' extradition to Texas has been halted.
  • NEW: Utah, Arizona both want Warren Jeffs extradited to Texas
  • NEW: Warren Jeffs' extradition is stayed until his appeal is decided
  • Jeffs' Utah conviction was overturned in July
  • Utah's governor signed extradition warrant in August
  • Warren Jeffs
  • Utah
  • Rick Perry

(CNN) -- The Utah Court of Appeals said that polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs' extradition to Texas has been halted while the court considers his appeal of the extradition order, documents showed Monday.

The Utah Supreme Court in July overturned Jeffs' conviction on two counts of being an accomplice to rape, saying instructions given to jurors were erroneous. Jeffs was accused of using his religious influence over his followers to coerce a 14-year-old girl into marrying her 19-year-old cousin. He was sentenced to two consecutive prison terms of five years to life.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in August signed an extradition warrant at the urging of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In Texas, Jeffs faces a felony charge of sexual assault of a child, as well as charges of sexual assault and bigamy, according to the warrant. If convicted, he could face a sentence of five to 99 years or life in prison.

Jeffs' attorneys filed the motion for a stay last month, saying Utah "is punting, using the [Uniform Criminal Extradition Act] as an offensive line to protect its weakened prosecution, buying time until it can figure out what to do next in its now frantic effort to defeat Mr. Jeffs and the unpopular religion he represents."

The defense argued the Interstate Agreement on Detainers -- a federal law under which a state can obtain custody of a person even if the person is already incarcerated in another state -- no longer applies to Jeffs, as his status changed with the Utah Supreme Court's ruling. Jeffs is now presumed innocent of all charges against him, defense attorneys claim, and extraditing him to Texas would violate his constitutional rights.

The court stayed the extradition until it can decide on Jeffs' appeal of the extradition order, requiring a response from the state by close of business Wednesday.

Utah's move put the state in line with actions in Arizona, where a judge in June dismissed charges against Jeffs after the Mohave County prosecutor requested it, citing "much more serious charges" against him in Texas. Jeffs had been awaiting trial in Arizona on four counts of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor.

Jeffs is the leader or "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The sect first drew national attention after Jeffs was arrested during a routine traffic stop in August 2006. At the time, he was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.

The FLDS is a 10,000-member offshoot of the mainstream Mormon church FLDS members openly practice polygamy at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, and in two towns straddling the Utah-Arizona state line: Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.

The mainstream Mormon church renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Critics of the sect say young girls are forced into "spiritual" marriages with older men and are sexually abused. Sect members have denied that any sexual abuse takes place.