Defense attorneys in the Warren Jeffs trial are expected to finish their closing arguments today. Utah prosecutors say the polygamist leader forced girls as young as 14 to marry older men, but two very different sides of the story are being played out in court.
Dueling portraits of Jeffs have emerged at trial. Is he a prophet, guiding his flock to salvation? Or a controlling, abusive leader of a polygamist cult?
The decision facing the jury is whether Jeffs is guilty of rape as an accomplice for arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old first cousin.
The cousin, Allen Steed, said this of Jeffs on the witness stand: “I don’t believe Warren Jeffs has ever done anything wrong.”
Steed denied ever forcing his wife to have sex, and in fact, said he cried over the demise of their relationship.
“I had to learn to love her and I’m sure she had to learn to love me. I’m sure it wasn’t easy,” Steed said of the arranged marriage.
The accuser, known only as Jane Doe, wept on the stand as she described her wedding night.
“I was very emotional. I could not believe that I was in this situation. I felt like I had no control of anything,” said the accuser, now 21 and remarried.
Influence of the Prophet
Defense attorneys argue that Jeffs did not order the victim to be raped. They called to the stand several current members of Jeffs’ church, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who denied that women are taught to obey their husband’s every wish.
“Absolutely not, of course not. That would be hypocritical,” a church member said on the stand. “What if he went psycho or something?”
During the trial, a lot of new information has come out about life in Jeffs’ church. Many of his estimated 10,000 followers live in isolated towns along the Utah-Arizona border.
It’s a place where outsiders are feared, and Jeffs is said to control what people wear, the police force, who marries whom and who has access to heaven.
Two of the witnesses in the trial produced iPods on which they listen to Jeffs’ long, hypnotic sermons about how to live.
“All your money, your time, your everything belong to the prophet,” Jeffs says in the sermon.
If Jeffs is found guilty, he could face life in prison.
The question is whether that will diminish his influence over his people or make him a martyr with even greater control, observers say.