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Sentencing for man charged in girl’s disappearance after Warren Jeffs ‘revelation’

KIFI

By Ben Winslow

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    JUNCTION, Utah (KSTU) — A man charged in connection with a girl’s disappearance following a “revelation” by imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs has been sentenced.

Heber Pearson Jeffs appeared here in Piute County’s 6th District Court where he was sentenced to serve up to five years in prison. However, Judge Marvin Bagley suspended that in favor of three years probation. Heber Jeffs previously spent 73 days in jail.

Jeffs did not speak at his sentencing.

He was originally charged with first-degree felony kidnapping of a 10-year-old girl he had been caring for since she was an infant at the request of her mother. But when the girl’s mother sought to take her child back, Piute County prosecutors said Heber Jeffs refused and then fled the state with the girl. They were found in North Dakota.

“That was on the heels of a revelation by Warren Jeffs,” said Piute County Attorney Scott Burns.

Heber Jeffs struck a plea deal with prosecutors to a third-degree felony charge of custodial interference.

The revelation, first reported on by FOX 13 News last year, calls for members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church to return and for women and children to be “gathered up.” Ex-members have expressed alarm over the reassertion of power by Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sexual assault related to underage “marriages.”

“She did not willingly hand her child over. This child was taken under coercion,” said Dowayne Barlow, the girl’s father who left the FLDS Church years ago.

Barlow was in the courtroom for Heber Jeffs’ sentencing on Monday.

“I think the outcome today is as good as we could hope for,” he told FOX 13 News afterward. “I’m not asking for people to get crushed. I’m asking for people to be responsible.”

Heber Jeffs’ defense attorney argued that his client has been a caretaker for the girl and she was not abused.

“He cared for that girl from the time she was 7 months to the time she was older than 10 years old,” Jeffs’ lawyer, Steve Burton, said. “Understand that he spent years and years caring for that girl and trying to provide her a good life. His intention was never to kidnap her or treat her poorly.”

But Judge Bagley said Heber Jeffs had no legal custody of the child, refused to give her back to her mother and then disappeared — prompting a search by the FBI, U.S. Marshals and the Piute County Sheriff.

Outside court, Burton insisted his client did not act under orders from his uncle, Warren Jeffs.

“I think there’s some speculation and there’s accusations by people who are disgruntled with the church and they speculate that was part of this case, but it wasn’t,” he told FOX 13 News.

But Burns said the revelation was certainly top of mind for the child’s mother.

“When this defendant, her brother, told her things have changed and then left? She was under no illusion other than they were going to North Dakota and it’s because of the revelation,” he said.

Recently, other ex-FLDS members have stepped forward to say their children have disappeared and they believe it is tied to Jeffs’ edict. They have expressed some frustration that law enforcement has not taken their pleas for help more seriously.

It was disclosed at Heber Jeffs’ sentencing on Monday that the girl had written a note saying she would like to continue to have contact with him. That prompted an objection from Burns.

“To have a little girl sit down and write, ‘Boy, I was in a great place and they treated me so lovingly. Gee, aren’t they great people?’ I don’t know if it was coercion or Stockholm Syndrome or just having control of a girl for nine-plus years,” he told the judge.

Judge Bagley forbade Heber Jeffs from having contact with the girl unless his probation officer said it was OK.

“No contact means no contact,” he told Jeffs. “No texting, no telephone calls, no face-to-face, no sending messages through third parties. No Snapchat. You understand that?”

“Yes,” Jeffs replied.

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