ST. GEORGE — Jailed polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs will return to 5th District Court today as a jury resumes deliberations that began on Friday.
The jury of five men and three women spent less than two hours sequestered with 45 pieces of evidence presented over five days before seeking the weekend off.
Jeffs is charged with two first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice for conducting a marriage between an unwilling 14-year-old bride and her 19-year-old cousin and counseling the couple to “multiply and replenish the earth.” Jeffs, 51, is president and prophet of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, which preaches plural marriage and believes in arranged marriages through revelations to the prophet from God.
If convicted, Jeffs could spend the rest of his life in prison. The jury must come to a unanimous decision, although it could split the verdict between the two counts.
Prosecutors argued that Elissa Wall, now 21 and married to the man she had an affair with while married to Allen Steed, would never have even kissed her cousin if Jeffs had not ordered her to do so.
Under Utah law, a 14-year-old can consent to sexual intercourse. However, such activity is considered rape if the other person is three years or more older and the 14-year-old is enticed or lured into having sex.
Both Wall and Steed testified they were virgins and had never even kissed or held hands with a member of the opposite sex before participating in their arranged marriage.
“The only reason Elissa Wall went into that bedroom and had to have sexual intercourse with Allen Steed is because that man told her to,” Washington County prosecutor Brock Belnap said during his closing statement, pointing his finger at Jeffs. “The reason she was there is because that man performed a ceremony and told her to multiply and replenish the earth. That’s why the defendant is an accomplice to rape.”
Wall testified that her stepfather arranged the marriage, that Jeffs would not stop it and that her mother insisted she go through with it. Three weeks after the wedding ceremony and a short honeymoon, Wall said her new husband forced her to have sex. Wall admitted she never reported a rape or told her mother or sisters she was being raped.
Defense attorney Wally Bugden reminded the jury that Steed has never been interviewed by the police or charged with a crime.
Steed, now 26, testified tearfully that he tried hard to be a good husband, never forced his young wife into sex and sought counsel from Jeffs as his spiritual leader. Steed’s version of what happened the first time the couple had sex differed starkly from Wall’s testimony, saying Wall initiated sex by rolling up next to him and asking if he loved her.
Bugden also pointed to Jeffs during his closing statement, telling the jury that the case isn’t about sex; it’s about Jeffs’ religion.
“The state is saying to you with a straight face and laser beam precision that the only person responsible for this relationship, for criminal accountability, is Warren Jeffs,” Bugden said.
Wall’s allegations against Jeffs came after she met with a Baltimore attorney that specializes in dismantling churches and after she filed a civil lawsuit against Jeffs and the FLDS Church. A proposed settlement by Wall’s attorneys would give her four acres and eight lots along the Utah/Arizona border, along with a $1 million fund to assist others who leave polygamy. Her attorneys would also receive 11 lots in the area.
“Over time, the story has evolved in her mind from a bad marriage to a story of rape,” Bugden said. “People are not as pure as they appear on the surface. Money changes everything.”
Prosecutors could have charged Jeffs with performing an illegal, underage marriage, Bugden said, but chose to charge him with encouraging a rape.
“The state didn’t have the courage to charge Warren Jeffs what he could have been charged with,” Bugden said. “They are prosecuting Warren Jeffs for rape because Warren Jeffs is the leader of a church they don’t agree with. Instead they dropped a nuclear bomb on this religious community and charged him with rape. There is no rape.”
Belnap urged the jury to convict Jeffs on both counts.
“Warren Jeffs was trying to teach Allen Steed how to seduce Elissa Wall and get her to submit,” Belnap said. “When a 14-year-old is persuaded to submit, there is no consent.”