Mental Competency of Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs At Center Of Legal Skirmish
A legal skirmish has unfolded regarding whether former polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is mentally capable of testifying in a sexual abuse case against him, the United Effort Plan Trust and other leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.
The question was raised in June when the plaintiff, known as R.H., filed a motion requesting the judge to order that Jeffs submit to a deposition in Texas where he is serving his life sentence.
Attorney Zachary Shields, who represents the trust, opposed the motion for a dozen reasons, including:
- That both parties are just beginning their “discovery process” and that a deposition would be premature;
- That the trust has received reports from Short Creek community members that Jeffs had “suffered a mental breakdown” and is highly unlikely to “provide admissible testimony;”
- That Jeffs has refused to answer any questions during previous depositions and further attempts to depose him would likely be costly, ineffective and designed to prejudice the jury rather than yield facts.
Sam Brower, a private investigator who has sat in on two depositions with Jeffs, confirmed his unresponsiveness.
“To every question posed to him, he pleaded the fifth amendment. He didn’t answer a single question,” he said.
Jeffs has a well-known history of mental health incidents that includes suicide attempts and extreme fasting.
The limited information that is available via the Texas Department of Criminal Justice offender information portal does not suggest a significant shift in Jeffs’ mental competencies: he is still allowed to receive visitors and has not been transferred to a different facility to receive intensive medical treatment.
Ken Driggs is a retired criminal defense lawyer and legal historian familiar with Jeffs’ case. He said that a judge could order that Jeffs undergo a mental competency evaluation.
“That information would be used to make a ruling on whether he was competent to make a proceeding,” he said. “I suspect Jeffs would fight that tooth and nail.”
Jeffs has a court date scheduled in St. George on August 27 to determine whether he will be ordered to testify.
David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.