Arizona May Seek Court Order to Get Evidence from Yfz Ranch

By Ben Winslow
Deseret News

July 25, 2008,5143,700245782,00.html

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard may go to court to get evidence seized from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch shared with states conducting investigations into alleged crimes within the polygamous sect.

"We haven't gotten the information that we've asked for. We have been pushing Texas, and federal authorities there, to try to release and help us evaluate some of the evidence," Goddard said in an interview with the Deseret News shortly after testifying in Washington, D.C., before a senate panel on polygamy-related crimes. "We may have to get a court order to do it."

Terry Goddard
Terry Goddard

Nearly 1,000 boxes of evidence were seized in the April raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Texas. Some of the evidence that has been made public includes documents that reference underage marriages.

"We can't wait to get a good look at that information because we're pretty sure that at least some of it correlates to crimes in our jurisdiction," Goddard said.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said in past interviews with the Deseret News his investigations into the FLDS Church have stalled because of a lack of access to evidence. Goddard wouldn't discuss the status of any investigations his office is conducting.

A court order to get access to the evidence will likely be his next step, Goddard said.

"There will be a request for one," he said. "If we're successful with that, then it opens up a great many possibilities."

Lawyers for FLDS members are already challenging what was seized, claiming an illegal search by law enforcement as well as priest-penitent privilege between FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and his followers. Some of that evidence is in federal custody and is being reviewed to determine what is protected.

Goddard and Shurtleff have supported the idea of a task force to investigate crimes within polygamous communities. Federal officials have said they are willing to work with their state counterparts but do not feel that a U.S. Justice Department task force is necessary.

The attorneys general are also participating in a multistate cooperative effort to investigate crimes within polygamy, and the FLDS in particular. Local, state and federal law enforcement officials from Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Texas met in Las Vegas last month to discuss evidence and information sharing.

On Tuesday, a grand jury in Eldorado, Texas, indicted Jeffs and five of his followers on charges ranging from sexual assault and bigamy to failure to report child abuse. Warrants have been issued for the men, whose names are under court seal until they are arrested.

"No arrests have been made yet," Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said in an e-mail Thursday.

Jeffs, 52, is in a Kingman, Ariz., jail awaiting trial on charges of sexual conduct with a minor, accusing him of performing more underage marriages.

"From his normal, daily phone calls, the jail staff believes he knows he was indicted," Mohave County Sheriff's spokeswoman Trish Carter said Thursday.

Jeffs' attorneys are expected to meet with him today. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he wants to extradite Jeffs to the Lone Star State as quickly as possible. However, that may have to wait until the court proceedings in Arizona are over.

"Texas will likely have to swear out a warrant for him," Carter said.

In Utah, Jeffs was convicted of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is serving a pair of 5-to-life prison sentences.

The YFZ Ranch was raided in April based on a phone call from someone claiming to be a pregnant 16-year-old girl in an abusive marriage to an older man. When child welfare authorities and law enforcement responded, they said they found other signs of abuse, prompting a judge to order the removal of hundreds of children.

They were all returned to their families when two Texas courts found that the state acted improperly and there was no imminent risk of abuse to the children.

The calls that launched the raid are still being investigated as a hoax.


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