SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) — A polygamist sect leader convicted of child sexual assault walked out of his sentencing hearing in protest Friday, after reading a statement he claimed was from God. The statement promised a "whirlwind of judgment" on the world if God's "humble servant" wasn't set free.
Warren Jeffs, 55, represented himself during an eight-day trial that ended with his conviction on two counts of sexual assault. The same jury must now decide his punishment — which could be up to 119 years to life in prison.
But before the punishment phase began and jurors had even been brought back into court Friday, Jeffs said, "I request the full removal of myself as an objection to all that has been presented."
He asked to keep serving as his own attorney, but state District Judge Barbara Walther said he couldn't leave and continue to represent himself at the same time. Instead, she ordered two lawyers who had been Jeffs' standby counsel, Deric Walpole and Emily Munoz Detoto, to represent him.
"Mr. Jeffs, I know this is difficult for you to understand, but you do not have control over these proceedings," Walther said. Jeffs often stands in court and waits up to a full minute before speaking. He began in slow and deliberate manner to respond, saying "I am . . .," but Walther ordered a recess.
Jeffs is the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. The more than 10,000 FLDS members nationwide see Jeffs as a prophet who is God's spokesman on Earth.
Jeffs asked to be taken back to jail, but Walther said that would make it too difficult for his lawyers to communicate with him. Instead, he was placed in a room near the court and will be allowed to return to the hearing whenever he chooses. The judge said Jeffs won't be able to dismiss his attorneys again and go back to defending himself, however.
He burned through a slate of seven high-powered attorneys, including Walpole and Detoto, in the six months before he decided to represent himself, and Walther said he did so in an effort to manipulate the court and stall the case against him.
Prosecutors plan to call witnesses during the sentencing hearing and introduce evidence showing Jeffs committed a slew of crimes not mentioned during his trial.