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July 26th, 2011
03:07 PM ET

Warren Jeffs seeks to control polygamist sect from jail

Editor’s Note: CNN’s Gary Tuchman explores the latest developments in the saga of polygamist Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a special report on tonight’s “AC 360” and for CNN Presents, airing Sunday, July 31, at 10 p.m. ET.

By David Fitzpatrick, CNN

El Dorado, Texas (CNN) - Fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs has been held in a tiny jail in this west Texas town for roughly three years. According to his jailers, he has spent his time doing one thing above all else: talking on the phone..

Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran told CNN that in one month, Jeffs has spent roughly $3,000 on phone cards.

And while Jeffs was recently held in another Texas jail roughly 50 miles away, he spent close to $10,000 in phone cards in three months.

Reagan County Sheriff James Garner, who oversees that jail, told CNN that no inmate there has ever spent that much money on phone cards.

Authorities say Jeffs has received money from loyal followers and that he uses much of it to buy phone time to deliver lengthy sermons to acolytes in Texas, Utah and Arizona.

Some Jeffs experts say the calls are proof that he’s running his church from behind bars.

And officially, Jeffs still leads the breakaway sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), which firmly believes in polygamy.

Leaders of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have repeatedly disavowed Jeffs and say his group of roughly 10,000 followers in no way represents their religion.

The official LDS church banned polygamy more than a century ago.

Jury selection for Jeff’s sexual assault trial began in Texas on Monday. He is charged with two counts of sexual assault on a child and one count of bigamy.

Jeffs has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The Texas accusations arise mainly from a raid conducted by the Texas Rangers on an FLDS ranch a few miles from El Dorado. Authorities took hundreds of children away from the ranch for over two months before allowing them to return.

Jeffs’ lawyer, Jeff Kearney, declined to answer any of CNN’s questions about his client.

Jeffs was tried in St. George, Utah, after his arrest in 2006.

He was found guilty on two charges of being an accomplice to rape, but the conviction was overturned by an appellate court on a technicality. Jury instructions were found to have been faulty.

Utah prosecutors elected not to re-try the case but Jeffs was arrested by Texas authorities.

In all, he has been in four different jails - in Nevada, Utah and Texas - for more than five years.

Now, even some once-trusted aides of Warren Jeffs say he has betrayed his church’s principles by openly boasting of relations with girls as young as 12 or 13.

“He’s said he is a very wicked man and he’s confessed to doing some very terrible things, including molesting his daughter and sister and others,” said Willie E. Jessop, a former Jeffs associate, referring to Jeffs diaries that were admitted as evidence in his Utah trial. “I think his own words describe himself more than I would care to characterize it.”

In 2008, when the Texas Rangers raided the FLDS ranch, called the Yearning for Zion Ranch, Jessop was close to Jeffs. Jessop even opened the gates of the ranch to journalists, giving them tours to show that nothing “bad” was happening there, as he put it.

But after seeing Jeffs' diaries, Jessop tells CNN's Gary Tuchman that “his conduct will never be sanctioned by me.” Jessop showed CNN two still photographs of Jeffs kissing very young girls.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in my church that will ever sanction what he has done,” Jessop says. “It’s just a matter of time until they come to terms and figure out how to cope with what he has done.”

But in Colorado City, Arizona, an FLDS stronghold, support for Jeffs still seems strong. A few residents told CNN they had become fed up with Jeffs, but many others voiced full-throated support.

Especially striking were remarks made by an 18-year-old woman who refused to give her name but who told CNN that Jeffs meant “everything” to her.

She said she wasn’t married yet but hoped to be in the near future. And when asked if she wanted to have so-called sister wives - the term used to describe women in polygamous marriages - she said yes.

“How many sister wives would be perfect?” CNN’s Tuchman asked.

“As many as I get,” she replied.

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.


soundoff (359 Responses)
  1. anon

    xmxm, The Book of Mormon takes no stance on polygamy; in fact, there's no doctrine about polygamy in it at all. It's my understanding that the LDS church and FLDS church read the same version of The Book of Mormon–they just have divergent beliefs on many subjects, including polygamy.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Veritas

      The Mormon delusion was invented by Joseph Smith Jr, and he certainly promoted and thrived in polygamy. The LDS gave up polygamy in the late 1800's under threat from the federal government. The FLDS is probably closer to Smith's original Mormon religion that he invented. But what a bunch of cr@p this religion is; I cannot understand that anyone can believe in this ludicrous nonsense.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • USA

      Acutally the Book of Mormon does take a stance on polygomy – against it – Jacob 2:26-27 26Wherefore, I Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. 27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there hall not any man amoung you have save it be one wife; and concubines, he shall have none;

      July 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Veritas

      Well that is because Joseph Smith wrote the book of mormon before he figured out that it would be great to be able to have s3x with multiple women.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Mormons-R-Cult

      The fictional book of Mormon has been changed over the years any time the church needs it to fix their image.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • UtahGK

      Read Doctrine & Covenants, section 132.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  2. Muggs McGuinness

    Several interesting points.
    If gay marriage is permissible, then why not polygamy? In an ideal world, perhaps. But I think the men will always cross the line from having sister-wives to child-wives to daughter-wives.

    Re the Jehovah's Witness description, virtually the same thing can be said about any fundamentalist religion. As recently noted, there are pedophiles among the Hasidim – but guess what, there are pedophiles in any insular group and they are allowed to persist for the same reason: Do not bring shame on our community – we can deal with it ourselves. It never succeeds. And if you think there are successful groups who do make it work, they are just censoring or filtering the information

    July 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Jesus

      The issue is more than polygamy. With Jeffs, it is about child abuse and running a welfare scam. nobody really cares how you live as long as the youngsters aren't abused or the US Gov't being played as a patsy.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  3. drock

    The Mormon religion is the most disturbing of all to me. I just ended a relationship with a Mormon and these people are the most brainwashed people ever. I don't think God ever told anyone that they could not drink coffee, tea, or alcohol, and what is the whole magic underwear thing? In my opinion, this is just a religion that was created by Joseph Smith and all of these so called "mormons" are just following the Smith religion. And... whats with the commercials.. "I'm a freak.. and I'm a mormon."

    July 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • John

      What's Romney's stance on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • John

      Oops...responded to wrong comment.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Mormons-R-Cult

      Agreed, you would have to be an absolute idiot to be a Mormon, which is why I won't vote for Mitt as President.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Newo

      magic underwear? Do tell!!!

      July 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Jesus

      I'm still waiting for my Cherokee girlfriend to speak Hebrew. After all Joey Smith said our Injuns all came from Palestine.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  4. David

    so he went from starving himself at the Mohave County Corrections facility to where he was being fed through an eating tube and IV's to still running his church. I guess with our lovely political system some how he will get off Scott free.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  5. JustaLowlyGentile

    I wonder by Mitt Romney has never spoken out against Jeffs. Could it be he secretly supports polygamy? He didn't sign the marriage pledge either because if denounces polygamy. And don't forget, his grand pappy owned 5 wives.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  6. Lessa Hampton

    I'm from Eldorado Texas. The spelling of that town is Eldorado not El Dorado.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • sonny chapman

      Any rain lately ?

      July 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  7. Pep A Traitor

    He's kinda hot... In a "hey, pick up the soap girlfriend" in the prison shower sort of way!

    July 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  8. pam

    The republican party now suports mormonisum,a cult following that brainwashed and sxualy abuses children and women.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • USA

      Democratic party must like Mormons too, since Harry Reid is the Congress majority leader. Or did you know Reid was Mormon??? Google it.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  9. buddget

    I don't know about you, but I am sick to death of these religious fanatics destroying innocent lives. It's about time to put an end to all of these monsters that believe in fairy tales.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  10. smrtaz

    What is that name for men with more than one wife? Oh yeah, "Masochist".

    July 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  11. Joshua the Agnostic

    Couple of things from a guy that all he knows about LDS is what that hilarious South Park Episode taught.

    1) Polygamy is all through the Bible. I've read it twice and I didn't ever see a condemnation of it.
    2) Why on earth is it illegal? Charlie Sheen can have a 3-Way every night and we applaud it.
    3) They're crazy, who cares what they do so long as it isn't to minors or non consensual.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • inFormed

      It IS minors so it is a big deal.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Mike Johnson

      Charlie Sheen? ... you mean you don't? ...

      July 26, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Newo

      ♥ southpark ♥ ♪♫ Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb!!!! ♪ ♫ Desperately want to see their (matt stone, trey parker) acclaimed broadway collaboration "The Book of Mormon"

      July 26, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  12. xmxm

    How many wives did Joseph Smith have?

    July 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      or King David, or King Solomon...

      July 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      @xmxm
      30, give or take.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_Latter_Day_Saint_polygamy
      "Warren Jeffs seeks to control polygamist sect from jail". No really ? Control couldn't possibly be the reason an adult marries a child.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Jesus

      57...with a few under 15 years old.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  13. K3Citizen

    And they want a Mormon in the White House, dream on!

    July 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • smrtaz

      So, if a polygamist Mormon got into the White House, would there be a First Lady, Second Lady, Third Lady, etc?

      July 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • inFormed

      smrtaz: Very good.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • USA

      Why? There is a Mormon who is majority leader in Congress. Does that bother you?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  14. Jake

    This guy does not represent the true LDS faith at all. He is a break-off, and is in no way affiliated with the mainstream Mormon faith including Romney or Huntsman.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban

      However he is still a Mormon

      July 26, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Cyrus

      But Osama Bin Laden represents all Muslims! Right?

      July 26, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Davey

      Actually he does represent the true LDS faith. It was the "true LDS faith" that gave up polygamy in order for Utah to gain statehood. Up until that time the LDS church embraced polygamy.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • ouka

      Actually, I'd argue that the modern LDS is the breakoff from the original Mormon church. I don't see why polygamy needs to be such a big issue, if that's what consenting adutls want to do, more power to 'em. Now, the part of this particular story that stinks, and goes against the original Mormon faith and the modern LDS faith, is the bit about children.

      Of course in Joseph Smith's era, girls were commonly married off at pretty young ages....

      July 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • aldo

      True, but he is actually more closely following original Mormon ideals.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Mel6

      He is actually NOT a Mormon. He is a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which broke off from the LDS church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known often as Mormons) over a century ago. He is in no way connected with the Mormon church.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Ancient Curse

      I disagree. Warren Jeffs is a perfect representation of the Mormon Church. Polygamy was outlawed by the LDS Church in Utah simply because it was required for statehood. Otherwise, it would still be happening. Forget that - it IS still happening, obviously. Granted, not all members the LDS Church subscribe to this ideology, but it cannot be denied that polygamy is a deeply integrated part of the belief system, whether practiced or not. It's another example of the LDS Church disregarding some of their "less popular" beliefs in order to achieve mainstream status. Here's a recommendation from the "Mormon Matters" Web site (found by searching for "Planet Kolob" in Google): "Planet Kolob to Mormons: It’s not our weird beliefs, it’s our credibility
      January 10, 2008
      By John Hamer
      We know there’s a problem. Here’s how the bulk of us as Mormons see the problem:

      SYMPTOMS: Americans have an anti-Mormon bias which manifests itself on the right with Evangelicals who call Mormonism “non-Christian” (and who cost Mitt Romney the Iowa Republican Caucus) and on the left with secularists and atheists decrying Mormonism’s foundational stories as an obvious “fraud.”

      DIAGNOSIS: Mormons are “persecuted” by non-Mormons for their “weird” beliefs.

      RECOMMENDED TREATMENT: De-emphasize (or eliminate) weird beliefs. Explain Mormonism using highly-nuanced language, which we (as Mormons) believe will satisfy non-Mormon ears (“milk before meat”)."

      July 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • whaa

      He thinks he is a real Mormon and God is on his side....funny how that works.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • RLP1509

      No he is not a Mormon in the way it is used in this article. Never has been and most likely never will be one. I doubt if you were to ask Jeffs if he is a Mormon that he would say yes.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • John

      Warren Jeffs represents the LDS church like Martin Luther represents the Catholic church. He doesn't. He's not a member. His beliefs are not compatible. One letter makes a big difference. FLDS is not LDS. It's a "F"undamentalist offshoot.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Veritas

      The Mormon delusion was invented by Joseph Smith Jr, and he certainly promoted and thrived in polygamy. The LDS gave up polygamy in the late 19th century under threat from the federal government. The FLDS is probably closer to Smith's original Mormon religion that he invented. But what a bunch of cr@p this religion is; I cannot understand that anyone can believe in this ludicrous nonsense.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • moe-ha-mid

      Keep in mind the federal government made polygamy illegal and the Morons had no other choice but to give it up. If that was not the case, they would still be practicing it today.

      Any church that is founded on so called golden tablets that never existed, is nothing more than a house of fools.

      Everyone's been had! Suckers!

      Has anyone seen my spaceship? I need to leave this place for awhile.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Newo

      @ John: worst. metaphor. ever.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  15. OhPuhLeeze

    I'm sorry, but why does this filthy serial rapist pig even HAVE phone access?

    July 26, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  16. Boris

    CNN, you seriously need to get your facts straight. This guy is *not* a Mormon. He is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints owns a trademark on the word Mormon, and it should not, therefore, be used as a descriptor of members of any other religious group. Journalism, you're doing it wrong.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • xmxm

      He is a mormon. He follows the original book. You follow the modified one. There is no other difference. Like any other religion this is full of hypocrisies.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • K3Citizen

      Tomato, tomato, they are all the same.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • RLP1509

      @xmxm from what parallel universe to you reside!!!??? Modified Book of Mormon. Nope. The LDS church still follows the original text as published in the early 1800's. A few VERY MINOR corrections to spelling and punctuation have been added over the years. If that is what you call modified then we are guilty!!!

      July 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • LDSRevelations

      LDS inc Brighamites need to realize that they are not the only 'Mormons' out there. Anyone who follows Joseph Smith and accepts the Book of Mormon can legitimately wear the label. Sure, the Brethren want to own this term and have been trying to since the Temple Lot Case. Fact is they don't.

      The Salt Lake Megachurch owns the term Mormon no more than Sunnis own 'Muslim' or Catholics own 'Christian'. Ironically EVs and other try to exclude Mormons from Christian just as Mormons try to exclude FLDS , Community of Christ (RLDS) and Strangites etc from 'Mormon'. It's a funny game you all play...at least to those watching.

      And seriously, you guys really need to do your homework.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  17. Jon

    Who? Never heard of him, now the top cnn story.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  18. Simon Peter

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a policy within their religion that protects pedophiles. The official policy is that the elders of the “Church” are supposed to handle the matter internally, without contacting the police. They do this so that shame will not be brought on the religion.

    It’s important that they keep a squeaky clean image to the public. Remember they believe they are the only “True” religion and all other Christian Churches are under the control of Satan. JW’s are not supposed to sue other JW’s or involve the police or courts. They believe these are Satan’s organizations and any crime by a JW should be dealt with internally.
    The elders will contact the police ONLY if they’re forced to by state law. Otherwise they are forced to follow official policy from headquarters. Some states require that “priests” or “pastors” report child abuse to the authorities. If they are not forced to report them than they cover it up.

    You might actually get a unreported pedophile knocking on your door next time they show up peddling pamphlets and selling “Eternal Life”.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Peapod

      Gotta check your facts. Pedophiles get excommunicated (aka disfellowshipped) not protected.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • paganguy

      The Catholic Church has been protecting pedophiles for hundreds of years. Only in recent years there were lawsuits against them in civil courts.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  19. Anti Christian Taliban

    One of Romney's buddies.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • USA

      Or one of Harry Reid's buddies?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  20. RightTurnClyde

    Why do we see so many attacks on Mormon faith? It is because there are several Mormon candidates? Is it for some good reason? There is ONE GUY who is not actually Mormon (he is like an ex-Catholic who likes the Latin mass) who has several wives .. and they apparently like it that way .. nobody objects BUT it is against the law. So he is breaking the law. Now gay marriage is supported and advanced by the same liberals who want to make this one guy into a Mormon and then castigate the Mormon faith. Is there something WRONG with this picture?

    July 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      For a better understanding we invite you to visit our website http://www.gaychristian101.com

      July 26, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • xmxm

      The guy is a mormon. It is just that he follows the original book and not the one forcibly changed to comply with America's value system. The only difference between LDS and FLDS followers is that the latter follow the original book. That is how fake religion is, I know it is hard to digest for you.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • ouka

      Because he's molesting little girls maybe? Multiple wives, I don't care about that. What consenting adults do in private is their business, not mine. But when you brainwash and molest children? Then yeah, that deserves a little bit of the harsh glare of the national media spotlight...

      July 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • aviva1964

      I couldn't agree more. Jeffs is to mormonizm as Osama is to Islam, and as the nut job in Stockholm is to Christianity. Rejected by the fundamentally good people who practice the religions these guys claim to represent. I am shocked by all the Mormon hating – what to hate? Hard work? Family? Honesty? Success in academics, sports, and business? Give me a break. If we as a nation don't hold Obama responsible for his crazy lunatic paster, why hold every Mormon responsible for Warren Jeffs?

      Jeffs is the lunatic fringe. The LDS community, while more conservative that most American communities, still represents a big chunk of American voters. Let's not judge them by their faith, but by their actions.

      Sidebar: Prop 8 was a LDS CHURCH initiative ... not an individual parisioner initiative. Hate just breeds hate. Let it go.

      July 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Frogist

      @aviva1964: Yes, but Osama Bin Laden was muslim. He was a violent, deranged muslim, but still a muslim. Breivik is a xenophobic bigot murderer, but still a Christian. Warren Jeffs is a perverse pedophile control freak, but still a mormon. Each group has their own skeletons in the closet. Pretending that they're not there does not make them go away.
      I agree that we must recognize each as fringe elements. But I think it's important to acknowledge first, that he is a human being like all of us, so we must all own him. And second, that he is a mormon, and mormons must own him too. I am genuinely tired of the religious, political, etc childish cries of "Not it!" because some group cannot own their mistakes or wrong-doings or evil-doers. The longer we stay in denial, the longer it will take to solve the problem. And since we have all forgotten, the problem is that there is a man in Texas who routinely molests children because his religion says it's ok to follow that particular perverse idea.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • LDSRevelations

      @aviva1964-

      Ironically Warren Jeffs practice of polygamy in many ways mirrors that of Joseph Smith— and in many ways he practices a Mormonism that is far close to what Smith lived than any of the General Authorities in SLC do.

      Jeffs, a middle-aged man, married minors. A number Joseph Smith's 33 wives were teenagers— he was in his mid to late 30s when he married them. 2 of the wives were as young as 14. Jeffs used/uses coercion and threats of damnation to get his followers to do his will— JS promised told prospective brides that an angel with a drawn sword commanded him to propose plural marriage to them and that the girl and her family would receive exaltation if she obeyed. Jeffs took away the wives and children of disobedient FLDS men. Joseph Smith had himself sealed to the wives of other active living LDS men (Marinda Johnson Hyde, Zina Huntington Jacobs, Sylvia Sessions Lyon, Rachel Ivins (after his death) etc). In the case of Orson Hyde some at the time speculated that it 'punishment' for his temporary apostasy in Missouri.

      Add to plural marriage...Consecration, literal Zionist beliefs, blood atonement and Adam God and the FLDS are at least far closer to Brigham Young's Mormonism by far than the current Church run by Thomas S. Monson. Joseph Smith would likely say that Monson is the one in apostasy, not Jeffs.

      So the "lunatic fringe" you're referring to is also known "early Mormonism" or "your religious roots." Just sayin.'

      July 27, 2011 at 11:57 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.