SALT LAKE CITY: Attorneys for a polygamous sect leader convicted of rape by accomplice are asking a judge to set aside the jury’s verdict, saying the evidence was insufficient and circumstantial at best.
“We think it’s the wrong result,” Wally Bugden told The Associated Press.
“Performing a marriage ceremony, urging people to stay in the marriage relationship, should not constitute the crime of rape,” he said Tuesday.
A jury in September convicted Warren Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for his role in the 2001 arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
Jeffs faces two possible life terms when he is sentenced Nov. 20.
Elissa Wall told jurors that Jeffs forced her into the relationship with Allen Steed and subsequent sexual relations against her will.
Bugden, however, said Wall’s testimony showed her mother, stepfather and pressure “from every aspect of her life” were influential in the marriage.
“A reasonable juror could not have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt from the state’s purely circumstantial evidence that Jeffs encouraged another to rape Elissa Wall,” Bugden said in papers filed Friday in Washington County’s 5th District Court.
His request that Judge James Shumate throw out the verdict is allowed under Utah court rules but is not often used, said Steve McCaughey, a Salt Lake City defense attorney who is not involved in the Jeffs case.
“Basically (Bugden) is just trying to take another shot at getting the verdict set aside,” he said. “It’s another thing you can try before you file an appeal. He’s being very thorough.”
In his filing, Bugden argues that Wall’s testimony failed to prove Jeffs was responsible for the marriage or the sex.
Walls failed to tell anyone — including family or Jeffs during marriage counseling — that she was being forced to have sex, Bugden said.
He also disputes claims by prosecutors that FLDS marriage teachings and encouragement to bear children prove that Jeffs is an accomplice to rape.
“The state certainly is trying to demolish and destroy this church, and they’ve chosen criminal prosecution as their technique,” Bugden said.
Prosecutor Brian Filter declined to comment Tuesday, saying the county attorney’s office would respond in court or with its own filing.
Wall, now 21, was granted an FLDS divorce by Jeffs in 2004 after she became pregnant with another man’s child. The AP does not typically name victims of sexual abuse, but Wall has made several public statements using her maiden name. She has declined to disclose her current legal name.
Steed, 26, was charged with rape the day after Jeffs’ conviction.
Members of the FLDS church, who live in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., about 350 miles (563 kilometers) southeast of Salt Lake City, consider Jeffs a prophet of God.
Although it was nOt an issue in the case, the faith holds plural marriage as a central tenet, believing it assures glorification in heaven.
The mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago, excommunicates members who engage in the practice and disavows any connection to the FLDS church.