ST. GEORGE, UTAH — — The leader of a polygamous sect being tried on charges that he coerced a 14-year-old girl to marry her cousin feared prosecution for presiding over underage unions if the girl fled her marriage, her sister testified Monday.
Rebecca Musser told jurors that Warren Jeffs asked her to encourage her younger sister to be happy in her marriage, citing changes to laws on underage marriage in Utah and Arizona, where his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is based.
Musser said Jeffs told her that “if this marriage fell apart or didn’t stay together, it could cause some problems.”
Jeffs is charged with two counts of coercing the rape of the bride by ordering her to marry her 19-year-old cousin and rejecting her pleas to dissolve the union after the marriage was consummated against her will. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.
The FLDS has roughly 10,000 members, who see leader Jeffs as their prophet. The sect is disavowed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which banned polygamy in 1890.
Earlier Monday, Jeffs’ attorney asked the alleged victim whether she explicitly told Jeffs she was being abused in her marriage.
“Did Warren Jeffs ever tell you directly to submit to Allen for sex against your will?” defense attorney Tara Isaacson asked the witness, referring to her former husband, Allen Steed.
“No,” the witness, now 21, replied. She added later that it was taboo in FLDS to use the word “sex” and that when she complained about her husband to Jeffs, she said her husband was “touching” her.
During the cross-examination, Isaacson tried to cast Jeffs as ignorant about what was going on in the couple’s bedroom.
She noted that in a previous hearing, the woman said Jeffs asked her and her husband two years after their wedding: “Have you tried to have children?”
The woman acknowledged that she did not make rape allegations until she fled the community in 2004 and married another man.
She has a lawsuit against the church, she confirmed. She said she did not know whether a conviction of Jeffs would help her case.
“I have no legal knowledge if that will help or not,” she said.
It was the testimony of Musser — one of the alleged victim’s 24 siblings — that dominated courtroom proceedings Monday.
Rebecca Musser occupied a privileged place in FLDS society: At 19, she married the church’s then-prophet, 86-year-old Rulon Jeffs — Warren Jeffs’ father.
Rulon Jeffs soon suffered a stroke and began to decline, and Warren Jeffs was regarded by church members as the chief envoy to his father. In 2002, after Rulon’s death, Warren Jeffs rose to the position of prophet.
Musser said that FLDS teachings forbid a wife to question her husband.
Defense attorneys pointed to Warren Jeffs’ teachings urging wives to say “No, no, no” if their husbands tried to lead them into wickedness.
But Musser said that that mainly referred to a woman’s ability to refuse to leave the church.
Musser testified that she had firsthand knowledge of Warren Jeffs’ views on a wife’s ability to deny her husband sex. She said Warren Jeffs chastised her for turning down her own husband’s advances.
“He would tell me, ‘Under no circumstances do you ever, ever, ever tell your husband no,’ ” she said.
Musser said that after Rulon Jeffs died, Warren Jeffs pressured his father’s many wives to marry other men, himself included. Musser refused, which elicited an angry response, she said.
“He pointed his finger right at me,” she testified, “and said — and I will quote — ‘I will break you. I will train you to be a good wife. You’ve had too much freedom for too long.’ “