A Texas judge has granted Warren Jeffs' request to represent himself in a sexual assault trial, which was delayed when the polygamous sect leader claimed his legal team could not provide a "true defense."
Jeffs fired all seven of his lawyers early Thursday and told Judge Barbara Walther he wished to represent himself, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The prosecution offered support of Jeffs' request, and Judge Walther "reluctantly" agreed to it, but cautioned Jeffs against what she called an "unwise decision."
"I don't think I've ever seen a defendant successfully represent themselves," the Salt Lake Tribune reported Walther telling the defendant.
"My counsel doesn't have the full understanding of the facts and are unable to assist in my defense," Jeffs told the court in what Reuters described as a "slow, halting voice."
"I have trained my defense, but they were unable to do what I said," Jeffs continued.
"I am presenting the need for true justice to be presented, and for the truth to come out."
Judge Walther insisted that one attorney remain in the courtroom at all times, in the event that Jeffs reconsiders.
"It's not as easy as it looks on TV, Mr. Jeffs," Judge Walther told the defendant after granting his request. "You're on your own."
When Jeffs remained mute after being asked to submit a plea, the court recorded a "not guilty" plea on his behalf, Reuters reported.
Jeffs had also requested the trial be postponed in order to give him more time to prepare, but Walthers denied that request.
The leader and self-proclaimed "prophet" of the splinter group FLDS is accused of sexually assaulting two underage girls who he took as "spiritual" wives.
Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints (FLDS) has been known to openly practice polygamy in compounds, including the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, Texas where the alleged sexual assaults took place, as well as two in Utah-Arizona border towns.
Evidence against Jeffs was obtained in a 2008 raid on the ranch, which was prompted by multiple phone calls by a woman claiming to be 16 and a victim of abuses there, CNN reported.
The raid on Yearning for Zion ranch resulted in 400 children being removed by the state -- a decision that was later overturned by the Texas Supreme Court, after which many children were returned to the ranch. Still, some men were charged with sexual abuse.
Jeffs' attorneys had moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the 2008 raid, as it was discovered that the phone calls police used to obtain search warrants were a hoax. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Wednesday that Judge Walther ruled against the defense, permitting the prosecution to use "the equivalent of 1.7 billion pages of evidence" obtained in the raid.
CNN reported that Walther issued the initial warrant for the raid, and ruled that the evidence can remain in the case because authorities legitimately perceived a need to protect a potential victim from danger.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Jeffs had "frequently" fired his lawyers in the months leading up to his trial, and that Judge Walther had ordered some lawyers back on the case so that the trial could proceed.
Members of FLDS believe they are preserving the beliefs of the original Latter-day Saints who traveled to the Great Basin in the mid-19th century. They are not affiliated with the official Mormon church -- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS -- as Mormons renounced polygamy at the end of the 19th century, and the practice has been condemned by LDS ever since.
LDS rejects the term "fundamentalist Mormons": In 2008, the Deseret News reported that the church sent a letter to multiple media outlets about the importance of maintaining a distinction between Mormons and polygamist sects.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that opening statements are expected after the lunch recess on Thursday.