Utah authorities wanted to be the first to prosecute polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, claiming to have the strongest case against him.
Now, they have to prove it.
On Tuesday, Washington County Prosecutor Brock Belnap will lay out the evidence against Jeffs, who is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice, during what is expected to be a daylong preliminary hearing before 5th District Judge James L. Shumate. The charges are first-degree felonies punishable by life in prison.
The proceedings mark a five-year effort by Utah to investigate alleged crimes in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, particularly underage marriages sanctioned by Jeffs.
“We have put a lot of time and effort investigating allegations of crime within the FLDS community,” said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. “It is very important to make sure the victims get justice and that Jeffs is held accountable for his crimes.”
Arizona, which also has sex crime charges pending against Jeffs for arranging marriages, will pursue its case once Utah’s wraps up.
Jeffs is being held at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane. On Tuesday, Shumate will rule on whether there is enough evidence to send the case to trial and also will address whether to grant Jeffs bail.
Wally Bugden, one of Jeffs’ defense attorneys, said Saturday that his client is a victim of religious persecution and that the case against Jeffs amounts to the state “condemning a culturally different religion.”
“My client married a 19-year-old man and a 14-year-old young lady,” Bugden said. “It was a first marriage for both. He encouraged them to love one another and have a family. Officiating in a religious ceremony does not make Mr. Jeffs an accomplice to rape.”
The state’s case pivots on one star witness, who will appear in court for the first time: A young woman identified only as “Jane Doe IV,” whom Jeffs allegedly sealed in a spiritual ceremony to her first cousin.
Doe’s husband has not been identified or charged with any crime. The marriage took place April 23, 2001, and Doe objected to it from the start, she says in a court filing.
Doe claims that Jeffs, then serving as first counselor to his father Rulon, ordered her to proceed. A month after the ceremony, which took place at the Hot Springs Motel in Caliente, Nev., Doe’s husband reminded her of Jeffs’ instruction that they were to ”multiply and replenish the earth and raise children in the priesthood.”
When she balked at consummating the marriage, Doe alleges her husband forced sexual intercourse. She later met with Jeffs on several occasions to voice her objection to having ”husband-wife” relations but says Jeffs told her to ”give yourself mind, body and soul to your husband like you’re supposed to.”
The state is relying on those statements to show Jeffs knew Doe objected to the marriage and to engaging in sexual intercourse with her husband but still enticed or coerced her to do so, necessary to prove his role as an accomplice.
”The theory of their case is treat him like an ordinary pimp,” said Loni Deland, a Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney.
But, he added, ”The state has a particularly heavy burden where he is the leader of a religion and is simply advancing the principles of that religion and the gospel as they know it, and the fact he is talking in generalities as opposed to renting a motel room and saying, ‘Go do it, that’s an order.’ ”
The accomplice charge is rarely used; Deland hasn’t encountered it in 30 years of practice. But it hasn’t taken much in other cases to show a victim was enticed or coerced into having sex, he said.
“In one Utah case, a guy bought the girl a Coke. In one, he bought at a bargain basement [store] a $5 swimsuit,” he said.
In this case, the enticement was Doe’s salvation, which Jeffs allegedly told her was at stake.
With help from Assistant Attorney General Craig Barlow, who has prosecuted such rape cases, Belnap is drawing on at least 1,000 documents – photographs, sermons and lessons given by Jeffs, and other items – to back Doe’s account of what happened and why she complied. (Visit www.sltrib.com to read a 1998 lesson Jeffs gave on marriage duties.)
Little is known about Doe, whose identity is a closely guarded secret.
On Thursday, the court extended that cloak of privacy to Doe’s courtroom appearance, barring the media from taking photos of Doe or her family during the hearing. The judge also said she will not be required to provide any ”locating information.”
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.
Last month, it was disclosed the woman also has sued Jeffs, under the pseudonym “M.J.,” for trauma related to her assigned marriage – something some observers expect Jeffs’ defense team to seize upon.
”There is a huge avenue of cross examination there,” said Ken Driggs, an Atlanta defense attorney who is an expert on the FLDS. ”You’re not here for justice, you’re here for money.”
For Jeffs’ defense team – Salt Lake attorneys Bugden and Tara Isaacson and Las Vegas attorney Richard Wright – Tuesday’s hearing offers an opportunity to hear details of the state’s case and judge Doe’s credibility.
”You’re just trying to undermine what they’ve [the state] got,” Driggs said, and assess whether to fight or settle the case. ”The defense is going to want to get as much out of [Doe] as they can because they are going to want to lock her into a story. If it doesn’t sound very good or sounds mercenary, they are going to be happy.”
Driggs and other attorneys point out that the admonishment Jeffs allegedly gave the couple to procreate, and his later counsel to Doe to return to her husband, is similar to advice given by countless religious leaders and marital counselors. Such speech, they said, falls under constitutional protections.
A preliminary hearing will be held Tuesday in Washington County to decide whether there’s enough evidence against Warren Jeffs to send the polygamous sect leader to trial on two counts of rape as an accomplice. The prosecution’s case hinges on the testimony of one Jane Doe, a star witness who will appear in court for the first time to give her account of how, as a minor, she was forced to marry an older man and to have sex with him. After the hearing, the judge could set an arraignment date when Jeffs would have to enter a formal plea before trial, or he could dismiss the case.