SAN ANGELO, Texas -- The West Texas judge assigned to the bigamy trial of a former lieutenant to polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs has been replaced.
Senior state District Judge Robert Moore of Big Spring will replace District Judge Barbara Walther as presiding judge of Wendell Loy Nielsen's trial, scheduled to begin March 21, the San Angelo Standard-Times (http://bit.ly/zTD10Q) reported.
Judge Dean Rucker, presiding judge of the 7th Administrative Judicial Region, ordered the change in a terse court order. The document gave no reason for the change, and Walther declined to comment, the Standard-Times reported.
Last month, Walther moved the trial from San Angelo to Midland, about 100 miles northwest of San Angelo.
The 71-year-old ex-president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced a plea deal in November and said he'd go to trial on three counts of felony bigamy. He is accused of marrying three women in 2005.
Nielsen and 11 other FLDS members were indicted after a 2008 police raid at the church's remote compound in West Texas. Jeffs, the ecclesiastical head of the church, was convicted in August and sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two of his child brides. Prosecutors said Jeffs had two dozen underage wives in all.
Walther has presided over all of the FLDS trials to date. Sect attorneys have repeatedly asked that she be replaced, accusing her of bias against sect members. Walther signed the search warrants that led to the April 2008 raid on the Yearning For Zion ranch near Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo.