ST. GEORGE — Polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs has been found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape.
Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, blinked when the verdicts were read, but showed no emotion. None of his followers in the courtroom reacted.
The 51-year-old was convicted of two counts of being an accomplice to rape related to a marriage he conducted in 2001 between Elissa Wall, who was 14, and Allen Steed, 19.
The first rape count occurred between April 23, 2001 — the day Jeffs conducted Wall’s marriage — and May 12, 2001, when she and Steed took a trip to Canada to visit her sisters.
The second count occurred between May 13, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2003.
Jeffs waived the 45-day deadline for sentencing, and no sentencing date was set. Asked if he wanted a pre-sentencing report completed, he answered that he would do what his attorneys advised.
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Taking a break?
A pre-sentencing report gives the judge further information about a defendant. Jeffs’ attorneys requested the report, and said they would also file a sentencing memorandum.
The three-member defense team walked out of the courtroom shortly after 2:30 p.m., and lead attorney Walter Bugden said only, “Of course we’re disappointed.”
A 5th District jury of five men and three women had deliberated about three hours today with a new member. One of the eight jurors was excused this morning for a reason that was not disclosed. She was replaced with a woman who was one of four alternates. The original jury had deliberated for about 13 hours.
Sam Brower, Cedar City private investigator who has assisted state authorities in building cases against Jeffs, said after the verdict: “It’s a good day. It’s a good move. I think the jury did a great job of sifting through all the evidence. Jeffs can’t say he didn’t get a fair trial.”
Elaine Tyler of the Hope Organization, a group that opposes forced marriages in polygamist communities, said she hopes the verdict will prevent young women from being told to marry against their wishes.
“It represents hopefully a change in that polygamist community,” she said.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff issued the following comment on the verdicts:
“This verdict is a victory for the many victims who have been hurt by Warren Jeffs and have been too afraid to speak out. Everyone should now know that no one is above the law, religion is not an excuse for abuse and every victim has a right to be heard. Let this verdict be a warning to anyone else who believes that forcing young girls to marry older men is acceptable and without consequence. The state of Utah will continue to be vigilant in pursuing anyone who breaks the law, no matter where they live or what they believe. Today’s verdict is just the beginning of a long journey to seek justice for all.
“I want to commend Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap, Deputy County Attorneys Ryan Shaum and Jerry Jaeger, Assistant Attorney General Craig Barlow and everyone else who worked so hard on this case. The Utah Attorney General’s Office will offer whatever assistance is needed in any upcoming criminal proceedings concerning Mr. Jeffs.”