They are pushing for Salt Lake County because poll data show most Utahns elsewhere say he is guilty
Attorneys for Warren S. Jeffs want his trial moved to Salt Lake County, where they argue the polygamous sect leader will get a more fair trial.
Jeffs’ defense team hired Utah pollster Dan Jones to survey 200 residents in Washington, Iron and Salt Lake counties about their views of Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
That poll found a “demonstrable prejudice” against Jeffs in Washington County, according to a motion filed Tuesday.
The survey found that 52 percent of those contacted in Washington County – and 54 percent in Iron County – believe Jeffs is “definitely guilty” – even though no crime was specified in the question.
Another 23 percent of Washington County respondents said Jeffs was “probably guilty.”
Respondents were asked to name the crime Jeffs had allegedly committed only after they had commented on his guilt or innocence. They gave varied answers.
Only 39 percent of those contacted in Salt Lake County considered Jeffs “definitely guilty,” the survey found. The polling firm contacted 200 people at random in each county, said Wally Bugden, one of three attorneys representing Jeffs.
Potential jurors from Washington County are “likely to be intolerant” of Jeffs given his religious beliefs, the victim’s age and publicity surrounding the case, the motion says.
“Washington County has never encountered a more notable, notorious, or memorable allegation than this one in which the head of a prominent, controversial and reviled religion stands charged as an accomplice to the rape of a young girl,” the motion states.
“All we want is a fair shot, where people haven’t already convicted him,” Bugden said.
Jeffs, 51, is set to stand trial in April on two felony counts of being an accomplice to rape for officiating at the 2001 spiritual marriage between the girl, identified as “Jane Doe,” and a 19-year-old man.
Doe testified during a preliminary hearing in 5th District Court in St. George that she repeatedly told Jeffs she did not want to proceed with the marriage. But she acquiesced after Jeffs said her salvation was at stake, Doe said.
Bugden also filed a motion arguing that the section of Utah’s rape statute cited in the charges against Jeffs is unconstitutionally vague in its description of what constitutes “enticement.”
“The state’s theory is that the defendant conducted a marriage ceremony between the victim and her husband, and later provided the couple with counseling, and that such conduct constituted, or perhaps aided in, the enticement of the victim into submitting to her husband’s sexual advances,” the motion states.
But Jeffs “could not have imagined that he was encouraging unconsented sexual intercourse.”
Under Utah law, when a victim is between the ages of 14 and 18 rape occurs when the perpetrator is at least three years older and entices or coerces the victim’s participation.
The state asserts that enticement occurred when Jeffs told Jane Doe her salvation depended on proceeding with the arranged marriage, that she was to “go forth and replenish the earth and multiply” and, later, that she was to give herself “mind, body and soul to her husband.”
But those “common” religious pronouncements that Jeffs made are constitutionally protected, Bugden said. Characterizing that language as enticement amounts to religious discrimination.
The state’s intent is to “regulate and criminalize” what is “legitimate religious speech” and is unfairly targeting one religious sect in doing so, the motion states.
For the same reason, Bugden filed a motion asking 5th District Judge James L. Shumate to reconsider his decision to send the case to trial. Bugden argues the judge drew erroneous, “speculative” conclusions in finding that Jane Doe’s reluctance to marry put Jeffs on notice that nonconsensual sexual intercourse would follow.
He said Shumate also erred in finding Jane Doe’s husband held a position of special trust and thus had undue influence over her, necessary for bringing the charges against Jeffs.
“You can’t be an accomplice without the underlying crime being committed,” Bugden said.
Under Utah’s rape law, those classified as holding positions of “special trust” include coaches, teachers, employers, parents and religious leaders.
Shumate fit Jane Doe’s husband under that umbrella because of “the fabric of the community in which” they lived, implicating his religious affiliation with the FLDS church.
Bugden said in his motion that neither “husband” nor “priesthood holder,” a religious designation also used within the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, qualify as positions of special trust.
“To find that a husband occupies a position of authority over his wife by way of certain religious beliefs not only criminalizes the sexual acts of many married LDS couples in the state . . . but also risks running afoul of the constitutionally protected freedom of religion,” the motion states.