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Polygamist Jeffs says he's persecuted

Aug. 3, 2011 at 10:04 PM
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SAN ANGELO, Texas, Aug. 3 (UPI) -- Polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs said in his opening statement Wednesday his child sexual assault trial in Texas amounts to persecution.

Jeffs, who made his 30-minute opening statement after prosecutors wrapped up their case, never brought up sex, marriage to underage girls or any specifics of the state's case against him, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Instead, he gave a history of Christianity, Mormons, his sect and the nation, and talked about religious persecution in Europe and how Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith was killed by a mob and became a martyr.

"Two times in our history, families carried away with the government, intent to break up families because of prejudiced beliefs," Jeffs said, warning against prosecuting someone on the basis of religion. "If it comes against unpopular religions a persecuting zeal, where should it end?"

Earlier in the day, a so-called sex tape recording was played in which Jeffs can be heard panting.

Prosecutors rested their case after playing the 21-minute tape recording, in which they allege Jeffs, 55, has sex with a 12-year-old girl he took for his wife in 2006, the Tribune said. Several jurors put hands over their mouths as the tape played.

Jeffs twice refers to the alleged victim by name and a girl's voice is heard at times, the newspaper said. She is not heard resisting, the newspaper said.

While there are no direct references to sex in the recording, earlier testimony indicated phrases heard on the tape, such as "heavenly comfort" and "heavenly sessions," refer to sexual intercourse, the Tribune said.

Near the conclusion, Jeffs, who had objected unsuccessfully to the prosecution's playing of the tape, is heard saying, "In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."

A girl's voice is heard responding, "Amen."

It was not clear whether Jeffs, who is representing himself, would call anyone on the stand, the Tribune said.

Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- a Mormon splinter sect -- is charged with sexual assault of a child in 2005 and aggravated sexual assault of a child in 2006. Jeffs, who is charged with first- and second-degree felonies, could face 119 years in prison.

The aggravated sexual assault count asserts that he married a 12-year-old girl and fathered a child with her. Under Texas law, a girl that age doesn't have the legal right to give consent for sex.

Another tape, from December 2004, played in the courtroom Tuesday revealed Jeffs had instructed his plural wives on group sex and being comfortable nude.

The charges against the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stem from marriages to girls 12 and 14 years old.

In the 90-minute recording, Jeffs instructs 12 of his plural wives on group sex, becoming comfortable nude and how they should care for their body hair in what he called a "training."

Texas Ranger Nick Hanna testified that the wives all undressed and put on white robes as Jeffs began to speak, the San Angelo (Texas) Standard Times reported.

Among the wives in the group was the 14-year-old girl whose parents brought her to be married to Jeffs.

Records presented in court indicate that Jeffs, who was 48 at the time, unofficially "married" the 14-year-old and reportedly fathered her child.

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