Polygamist leader mute during opening statement

Posted July 28, 2011, at 9:18 p.m.
Last modified July 28, 2011, at 9:51 p.m.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — A Texas prosecutor told jurors Thursday he would present an audio recording of a polygamist sect leader raping a 12-year-old and other evidence showing the 55-year-old impregnated a 15-year-old girl during the man’s sexual assault trial.

The trial began shortly after Warren Jeffs fired his high-powered defense team and a judge allowed the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to defend himself.

But when it came his turn to present an opening statement, Jeffs was mute, sitting silently in his courtroom seat.

Then, as the prosecutor continued to present his case, Jeffs stared off into space, appearing not to be paying attention to the proceedings.

“You’ve sat here now for an hour and not said a word,” District Judge Barbara Walther said, then added his continued silence could have “a very bad result.”

The silence was a sharp contrast to Jeffs’ earlier behavior in court. Then, he spoke for more than 20 minutes, telling the judge he had spent extensive time training his lawyers, but they weren’t able to present “a pure defense.” He then pleaded for more time to prepare the case by himself.

But Walther turned down that request. Jeffs has burned through seven attorneys in six months, and prosecutors complained his frequent switching of counsel was a delay tactic.

“Mr. Jeffs, the court is not going to recess these proceedings to let you go to law school,” Walther said in deciding to start the trial as scheduled.

Jeffs’ sect is an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that believes polygamy brings exaltation in Heaven, and followers see him as God’s spokesman on Earth. He is accused of sexually assaulting two underage girls at a remote compound in West Texas. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

2 US hikers face Iranian court date on spy charges

MINNEAPOLIS — The families of two Americans imprisoned in Iran for nearly two years say they’re counting on a court hearing Sunday to end their ordeal at last.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, are due for what Iranian authorities have said will be a final hearing in their protracted espionage case. It’s scheduled two years to the day after they were arrested along with another American, Sarah Shourd, during a hike on the Iraq-Iran border. Shourd was released last September.

Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey of Pine City, Minn., said she’ll be up all night praying.

“As a mother I’m always holding out hope, but it’s been two years. … It’s time for this to be heard in court and for a release to be made,” Hickey said, adding that she’s heard “some really positive comments coming out of Tehran” that give her hope.

Hickey was referring to remarks by Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, who told Iran’s official news agency in June that officials “are hopeful that the final decision about the three Americans’ case will be taken” at Sunday’s hearing. He did not hint at what the decision might be. But the families, who have long maintained the hikers’ innocence, took his comments as a good sign that their ordeal will soon be over.

“They themselves said that it will be the final decision, at that point, and the final hearing. So I have every belief that they will live [up] to this, and I am more than eager to see Josh and Shane come home,” said Josh’s mother, Laura Fattal, of Elkins Park, Pa. She also said she sees the hearing date — the second anniversary of their arrest — as a good sign.

Shourd, now 32, and Bauer got engaged in prison before she was released on what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said were humanitarian grounds following health issues. She said she’s also managing to be optimistic.

“Optimism is what gets me through every day and what gets Shane and Josh through every day in prison,” Shourd said. “We have been told that a final decision will be made. And our lawyer, Masoud Shaffii, is a brave, courageous man, and he’s read their file. He said there is absolutely no evidence against them and he’s feeling very upbeat and he’s very much looking forward to this final session. And we’re all very hopeful that this will be the end of our nightmare.”

Egypt lays plans for venue of Mubarak trial

CAIRO — Hosni Mubarak’s trial will be set in a huge Cairo convention center with hundreds of seats for an audience, heavy security and a metal defendants’ cage large enough to hold the man who ruled Egypt unchallenged for three decades, his two sons and seven associates, judicial officials said Thursday.

Health Minister Amr Helmy said the 83-year-old Mubarak is well enough to be moved from a hospital in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he is under arrest, to Cairo. He will face charges of corruption and ordering the killings of protesters during the uprising that toppled him in February.

“Mubarak’s health is in appropriate condition for him to be tried in Cairo,” Helmy told reporters.

Protests have escalated recently clamoring for Mubarak and other former regime stalwarts to be brought to justice over the killings of protesters and other crimes over the years. Many activists say the ruling military council which took power from the ousted president — and is headed by Mubarak’s former defense minister — is dragging its feet on the prosecutions.

A few hundred hard-core protesters have erected a tent camp in Cairo’s Tahrir Square — the epicenter of the uprising — to press for speedier trials, and a march last week to the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Armed forces ended with more than 100 people injured after men armed with rocks and sticks attacked them.

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