Fri July 29, 2011
Warren Jeffs: Alone For The Defense
At the end of court yesterday, Warren Jeffs stood all by himself at the defense table, head bowed, motionless as everyone swirled around him.
The morning began with him firing his defense lawyers and announcing he would represent himself. It was a particularly cruel blow for Deric Walpole, Jeffs' lead defense lawyer, who'd been working 20-hour days to get ready for this moment only to have Jeffs pull the rug out from under him.
Jeffs is head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a radical offshoot of Mormonism that believes polygamy is the key to eternal life.
He's been playing musical chairs with his lawyers for months now, hiring and firing them, then asking the court for more time so his new lawyers could get up to speed, only to fire them again and ask for even more time.
Judge Barbara Walther had had enough; there would be no more delays despite Warren Jeffs' pleas for more time. If Jeffs couldn't get what he wanted then he would pout and sit silent. Representing himself meant having no representation at all — no cross-examination of witnesses, no objections to evidence of testimony.
Jeffs sat at the defense table all by himself, silent, hunched over, staring into his lap.
By the end of the day, he'd angered the judge and his lawyers, who no doubt felt a small measure of humiliation at being taken in by Jeffs and then discarded like yesterday's trash.
The only man who was probably pleased at the turn of events was lead prosecutor Eric Nichols. If there would be no defense, conviction was all but guaranteed.
It was 6:30 p.m. when a weary group of jurors filed out of the courtroom. Prosecutors were animated as they gathered up their dozens of boxes of evidence for the trek home.
Jeffs' former lawyers were still there, but now in the gallery.
As Jeffs stood alone at the defense table, none felt moved to go to his side. He didn't seem to want company anyway. He faces 95 years in prison if convicted of two counts of sexual assault of a child. There were a couple of FLDS followers — men — in the gallery, but although they could have come to the bar to speak to Jeffs, none approached. Jeffs stared at his shoes. When deputies finally led him away he limped at first. He'd been stationary for so long, his legs had fallen asleep.
The trial was expected to last four weeks, but now may go much faster if Jeffs keeps this up.
Wade Goodwyn is a national correspondent for NPR.