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Polygamist Jeffs Won't Fight Extradition to Utah

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The self-proclaimed prophet of the nation's largest group of polygamist says he won't fight extradition to Utah. Warren Jeffs is charged with facilitating polygamist marriages involving underage girls. His case depends on one young woman as NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

Warren Jeffs walked into court in Las Vegas yesterday in a blue jail uniform shackled at the waist and ankles, thin and tall, and so quietly compliant he could barely be heard.

Unidentified Man: Are you Warren Jeffs?

Mr. WARREN JEFFS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints): Yes.

Unidentified Man: All right. Mr. Jeffs, you're being held as a fugitive...

BERKES: Jeffs was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list until his capture in Nevada Monday. He's presided over a polygamy empire with more than 6,000 followers in at least seven states and property worth more than a $100 million. His Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints dominates neighboring towns on the Utah, Arizona border, and former members say he creates...

Ms. PAMELA BLACK (Former Member, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints): Stark and naked fear. It's fear that - it's hard to explain - but fear.

BERKES: Pamela Black says she was too young for marriage when one of Jeffs' predecessors assigned her to an abusive man. She was afraid, she says, to leave the only faith, family and community she knew.

Ms. BLACK: Just fear of one's salvation, fear of - actually a fear of one's life because that programming that we've been taught since babyhood that if you turn your hand against the prophet, you are worthy of death.

BERKES: Black suspects that the young woman waiting to testify against Warren Jeffs is plagued by similar thoughts. She's not named in court documents, and even her age and other details are vague. But she tells a clear story. Warren Jeffs she says forced her into a polygamist marriage and forced her to have sex with her husband despite her telling them she was too young for both. She believed Jeffs was a prophet of God, and he told her that eternal salvation depended on compliance. That amounts to rape as an accomplice if it's true. Conviction could result in a life sentence. Prosecutors say the young woman has overcome fear and will testify, but attorney Monte Stewart(ph) has doubts.

Mr. MONTE STEWART (Attorney): Obviously, the case hinges on her willingness to testify in open court, and there's no certainty on that, of course, until that moment arrives.

BERKES: Stewart was a special prosecutor in another prominent polygamy case, and says women raised in isolated polygamist communities find it very difficult to defy what they once held sacred.

Mr. STEWART: Whether she continues greatly conflicted regarding Jeffs' status before God - maybe to some extent that would only be natural if she were somewhat conflicted on that.

BERKES: In fact, another polygamy case fell apart this week when the sole witness suddenly stopped cooperating. Rodney Parker is an attorney who has defended Warren Jeffs in lawsuits. He believes cooperation is coerced and weak to begin with.

Mr. RODNEY PARKER (Attorney; Former Defense Counsel for Warren Jeffs): I would characterize their cooperation as a response to pressure put on by the state, and there's some tug-of-war going on there. But what you see with a lot of these women is that they've just simply made a choice that they don't want to see this happen to their families, and so they refuse to cooperate further.

BERKES: A reliable source familiar with the Jeffs' case says the woman waiting to testify is more secure and more dependable than that. She's up to the task, he says, and she's the one he believes who will put Warren Jeffs away for life.

Howard Berkes, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.