ST. GEORGE, Utah — A woman who claims she was forced at 14 to marry a cousin called it the “darkest time of my entire life,” telling a judge Tuesday that she agreed to a quick “peck” of a kiss before locking herself in a bathroom.
The ceremony at a Nevada motel in 2001 was “one of the most painful things I’ve ever been through. I just want to move on with my life and forget it happened,” the woman, now 20, testified.
She is the key witness in the case against Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
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Jeffs, 50, is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice for his alleged role in arranging the marriage between her and a 19-year-old man. A judge must decide whether there is probable cause to send Jeffs to trial.
Prosecutors completed their case Tuesday, and 5th District Judge James Shumate said the preliminary hearing would resume Dec. 14.
Jeffs’ defense team plans to call two witnesses, including the woman’s current husband.
On Tuesday, one of Jeffs’ lawyers introduced photographs of a smiling, laughing couple and got the woman to acknowledge Jeffs never explicitly ordered her to have sex with her new husband.
The lawyer, Tara L. Isaacson, also introduced sweetheart notes the couple had traded and quoted from girl’s journal in which she expressed enthusiasm about being singled out for marriage. The woman testified that the journal entry was written before she learned the identity of her partner.
“Was every day with (the husband) miserable?” Isaacson asked.
“Many of them were,” the woman said.
Faithful church members revere Jeffs as a prophet and are taught to obey his every command, including marriage instructions, she testified.
“This was the darkest time of my entire life,” she said.
She said she refused to say “I do,” take her groom’s hand or kiss him. Finally, she relented, submitting to a peck and then locking herself in the bathroom.
“I felt completely trapped and defeated,” said the woman, who has left the FLDS church. The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Jeffs’ defense team has said he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
Looking gaunt and pale in a dark gray suit, Jeffs smiled slightly throughout most of the hearing, which included testimony from two of the woman’s sisters.
The Mormons, however, disavow any connection and renounced polygamy in 1890 as a condition of statehood.
Prosecutors allege Jeffs forced the woman into the marriage despite her repeated objections. They say he told her it was her religious duty to submit to the marriage and to produce children.
Raised in the faith since birth, Jeffs’ accuser said she felt a heavy responsibility to “the entire community” in the days leading to the marriage ceremony.
“I was scared. I didn’t have any place to go,” said the woman, who is married to a different man now and due to deliver a baby in two weeks. “I felt that if I didn’t do what I was told, I would forever pay the consequences.”
Based in the small border communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the FLDS practices arranged marriage for young girls and believes plural marriage secures exaltation in heaven. There are an estimated 10,000 members.
Security at the Washington County courthouse was extraordinary Tuesday, with police sharpshooters posted on the red rock hills that ring the building. No vehicles were allowed to park on the street.
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