Jeffs Restored As Head Of FLDS, Despite Legal Troubles

February 23, 2011

Howard Berkes

He may be sitting in a Texas prison, but Warren Jeffs has officially resumed control of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), the nation's largest polygamist group.

A document filed with the Utah Department of Commerce names Jeffs as president and "corporation sole" of the FLDS faith. "Corporation sole" is a phrase often used to give corporate authority to an individual leader of a religious group. The document is at the bottom of this post.

In a letter that accompanies the document, Jeffs says that he was "called and sustained as the President" of the FLDS Church. The faithful believe that their "president and prophet" is "called" to the position in a process that is divinely inspired. Other leaders and members then "sustain" that calling.

Jeffs had officially surrendered control of the faith in 2007 after being convicted of being an accomplice to rape and sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison.

Earlier that year, according to court documents and jail recordings in Utah, Jeffs abdicated his position as FLDS prophet, admitted to "immoral" behavior with a sister and daughter and said God "had revealed to him that he was a wicked man."

These statements were made during a period of poor physical and mental health in prison, which included a suicide attempt, according to court documents filed by Jeffs' attorneys. Jeffs later renounced the statements.

Jeffs' Utah conviction was overturned last year by the Utah Supreme Court. A similar prosecution in Arizona was dismissed. Jeffs was then extradited to Texas to face charges of bigamy and sexual abuse of a child.

It is unclear why Jeffs would resume control of his church now, or how he would lead the faith while in prison. Attorney Rodney Parker, who has represented the FLDS in the past, tells NPR that he is "not in a position to comment."

As we reported here yesterday, Jeffs faces new allegations that he imported three child brides from an FLDS community in Canada and married them in the United States. A hearing in Vancouver Friday in the British Columbia Supreme Court will determine whether evidence of those allegations will become part of a court case focused on the constitutionality of polygamy in Canada. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.