ST. GEORGE, Utah (CNN) — A reluctant child bride told a Utah jury Thursday that she was trying to preserve her eternal salvation when she obeyed a command by polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs to marry her cousin at age 14.
Referred to in court as Jane Doe, the young woman was married in a 2001 religious ceremony to the cousin, then 19. She said she disliked him because he once had sprayed her with a water hose on a freezing day.
“I preferred to stay away from him,” she stated.
She told the jury she was given less than a week’s notice that she was to be married.
She found out when the groom-to-be sat next to her at a family gathering, a level of intimacy not permitted among young unmarried people, she testified. She wrote in her journal: “Many things happened this weekend to make my world go upside down.”
On her wedding day, she left the girlish bedroom she shared with a sister and returned to find it redecorated, a queen bed taking the place of the twin beds.
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Despite her reservations about her new husband, she said, she then tried to follow Jeffs’ counsel to submit to him “mind, body and soul.”
Jeffs, 51, who leads the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice for using his church authority to coerce the unwilling girl into marriage.
About two dozen followers, mostly men in Western-cut suits, crowded into the courtroom, about 50 miles from the sect’s base in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. VideoWatch Jeffs’ rise as prophet »
While they slowly rose from their seats as ordered when Judge James Shumate entered the courtroom, the followers popped up unbidden when a shackled Jeffs was brought in.
A jury of seven women and five men is hearing the case. Testimony began late Thursday afternoon, and Jane Doe was the first witness. Dressed in a business-like skirt and jacket, she took the stand for about an hour and returned Friday morning.
Her testimony provided a snapshot of a childhood spent in the sect, also known as the FLDS. It splintered from the Mormon church more than a century ago over the practice of polygamy; the Mormon church now repudiates it.
Regarding Jeffs, she said, “I’ve known him since my earliest years.” Jeffs, she added, taught at Alta Academy, which she attended from the first through sixth grades. Jeffs later became headmaster at the FLDS-based school in Salt Lake City.
As she grew up, tapes of Jeffs’ 1990s lessons and sermons were played constantly on her family’s home stereo or on her portable cassette player, she said. Four of those tapes were played Thursday for the jury.Hear the words of the prophet (Caution: Content may be offensive) »
Teens are pressured to avoid the opposite sex or face being considered “damaged product,” she said. “You were taught before you married you treat the boys and boys treat the girls as though they were snakes.”
Girls were counseled to obey their husbands, who were their ticket to heaven. “Give yourself to him,” one tape said, “Be obedient to the principle” [of polygamy]. Another directed, “Be committed and do as directed as a ‘keep sweet’ attitude.’
Yet another tape, dated March 13, 1998, states that young women should pretend there is a wall of bars between them and the opposite sex. “That one man, your husband — do the opposite,” Jeffs lectures. “When you marry, let the bars drop.”
The girl first had sex with her cousin about two months after the ceremony in a motel room outside Las Vegas, Nevada, according to prior testimony in the case.
But the defense maintains that Jeffs never commanded his female followers to submit to sex.
During a 1999 sermon, defense attorney Tara Isaacson said in her opening statement, Jeffs told followers that a “man should only have marital relations with a wife if she invites it.”
John Doe might not have liked being married to her cousin, but “being unhappy is different from being raped,” Isaacson told the jury.
She also pointed out that Jane Doe’s marriage was not polygamous.
But polygamy casts a long shadow over the case.
Jeffs has led the FLDS church since his father’s death in 2002.