Judge: Warren Jeffs can represent himself, trial will not be delayed

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- The judge presiding over the trial of Warren Jeffs has said the polygamist sect leader can represent himself and ordered opening statements to proceed.

After standing up and delivering what amounted to a rambling 30-minute sermon in court Thursday morning, Warren Jeffs asked that he be allowed to be represent himself in his sex-assault case.

"I have released all of my counsel," he said. "I desire to represent myself,” he continued, saying his present counsel "did not have a full understanding of the facts" or "comprehend the truth of this case."

“In a nation that professes true justice,” Jeffs said he needed to represent himself.

“My release of counsel has been with great thought. I stand before this court presenting this need for truth to be presented,” he said. “Without this opportunity, I would be limited in my defense.

“My expressions are sincere. My need for self-representation has been emphasized in seeking help to present a full defense. … This is a right according to the law.”

Jeffs told the judge he needed time to find another attorney to help him navigate the intricacies of the law and help him with the technical aspects of the trial, including filing legal briefs.

3TV's Mike Watkiss described Jeffs' delivery as "rambling" and "long and labored," with long pauses after almost every sentence.

This is not the first time Jeffs has fired his attorneys. He has a history of not being satisfied with his counsel. It's also not clear if this is yet another stalling tactic, something for which Jeffs is known.

When Jeffs, 55, wrapped up, Judge Barbara Walther, reputed to be a no-nonsense judge, recessed court.

Opening statements in the trial were expected Thursday after one last pre-trial hearing, but then Jeffs made his request to represent himself. While Walther granted that request, she denied a petition to delay the opening statements until Monday. Rather, she ordered that opening statements proceed after the lunch recess.

Jeffs has had seven attorneys appear on his behalf in recent months, leading to a six-month delay to the start of his trial. Prosecutors say Jeffs' frequent switching of attorneys has been a delay tactic.

Jeffs, self-proclaimed prophet and head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is charged with sexually assaulting two underage girls, one of them just 12 years old. If convicted, he could go to prison for life.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.