Thu, Nov 08, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Religious leader attempted suicide in jail before ruling


A polygamous-sect leader tried to hang himself in jail in January, eight months before a jury convicted him of rape as an accomplice, according to documents released on Tuesday.

The disclosure was in an evaluation by mental-health expert Eric Nielsen, who examined Warren Jeffs in April and found him depressed but fit for trial.

The suicide attempt was not disclosed in May when a judge released portions of the report.

Jeffs, 51, is president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). He was convicted in September of two counts of rape as an accomplice in the 2001 arranged marriage of a 14-year-old follower and her 19-year-old cousin.

He could be sentenced to life in prison later this month. He also faces criminal charges in Arizona and in federal court in Utah.

Jeffs tried to commit suicide in his cell at the Washington County jail on Jan. 28, Nielsen wrote.

"He was interviewed the following day, and his mood was described as somber and dull," Nielsen wrote. "He has complained that he felt anxious."

At the time, authorities said Jeffs was taken to a hospital but declined to say why.

On Jan. 30 and Feb. 2, Jeffs threw himself against the walls and banged his head, Nielsen said.

In April, when Nielsen examined him, Jeffs replied "not really" when Nielsen asked whether he had truly intended to kill himself.

Though he had appeared to surrender authority over his followers, Jeffs continued to give orders from jail. At one point, Jeffs instructed his flock to "have plenty of supplies in case people needed to return to the land of refuge," according to a summary of a conversation.

The FLDS is a polygamy-practicing sect whose members mostly live in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.

The mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago, excommunicates members who engage in the practice and disavows any connection to the FLDS church.

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