The two people at the center of a criminal case against a polygamous-sect leader have painted dramatically different pictures of their arranged marriage.
A young woman said she tearfully objected and was forced to have sex against her will when she was just 14.
Her tears? Her husband didn’t recall any during the 2001 wedding ceremony and insisted it was the teen bride who snuggled up to him to have her back scratched before their first sexual encounter.
“I believe that every story needs two sides for the truth to come out,” Allen Steed said Wednesday as he testified for the defense.
Warren Jeffs, 51, is charged with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the ceremonial marriage between the girl and Steed, a cousin who was 19 at the time.
Washington County prosecutors contend Jeffs used his authority as a feared and respected church leader to force the religious and sexual union of Steed and the 14-year-old bride.
The woman, now 21, said Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commanded her to obediently give herself to her husband “mind, body and soul.”
Steed, however, said Jeffs simply counseled patience, prayer and love.
The defense team called 10 witnesses over nearly two days but it was Steed’s testimony that clearly captured the jury’s attention. Closing arguments were set for Friday. Jeffs could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
Like the couple’s own stories, other witnesses on both sides offered different views of the FLDS culture and religious beliefs.
In telling his story Wednesday, Steed, now 26, contradicted the words of his former wife, saying there was never a time in their 3 1/2-year relationship that he forced sex on her. He wanted the marriage “to last forever.”
Steed, who has not been charged in the case, said he was never questioned by police about rape. He acknowledged that his testimony could be used against him but that risk didn’t stop him from standing in the witness box so the jury could hear his soft voice.
The woman claims Steed forced sex on her after telling her it was time to “be a wife and do your duty.”
But Steed told jurors she approached him after he fell asleep in his clothes following a 12-hour day at work, weeks after their marriage in a Nevada motel.
“She woke me up and asked me if I cared about her and loved her,” he testified. “I told her that I did. She rolled up close to me and asked me to scratch her back. … I felt like she was ready to go forward.”
He replied, “no sir, never,” when asked by defense attorney Wally Bugden if he ever had to talk his wife into having sex or if he had used his authority as the head of an FLDS household to demand it.
At one point, the woman appeared to be upset and dashed from the courtroom. She later returned and passed notes to prosecutors as she listened to Steed.
He said he sought advice from Jeffs to get through a “rocky” period of their marriage.
Jeffs’ remedy: Pray, work and play together, Steed testified.
“He told me that I had to learn how to get her to love me so she would obey because she loved me,” Steed said.
Under cross-examination, prosecutor Craig Barlow never challenged Steed’s account of the couple’s first sexual encounter but instead focused on whether he knew marrying a 14-year-old was illegal.
“I didn’t really put much thought into it,” said Steed, adding he believed it was right under “God’s law.”
It was an FLDS ceremony, not an official marriage with a license from public authorities.
FLDS marriages are arranged by the church president, known as the prophet. The couple’s marriage occurred at the behest of Fred Jessop, who was the third-ranking member of the church leadership behind Jeffs and father Rulon Jeffs.
The couple’s marriage ended in 2004 after Steed learned his wife was pregnant with another man’s child.
She has left the church and remarried. The Associated Press generally does not name people alleging sexual abuse.
“It hurt really bad,” Steed said of the affair, dabbing his eyes with a tissue. “I had a weakness flare up when I had a strong desire to get a gun, feeling robbed … but no, I knew that was wrong so I just left it at that.”
He remains single.