ST. GEORGE – Twelve residents of Washington County who convinced attorneys they see Warren S. Jeffs as an innocent man are expected to begin hearing testimony today in a clash over the polygamous sect leader’s instructions to a young bride.
Attorneys, who spent three days interviewing prospective jurors one by one, completed their effort to find 28 qualified jurors late Wednesday. This morning they were to select eight jurors and four alternates from that pool, and then argue final motions before the trial begins at 1:30 p.m.
Among those motions: an effort by prosecutors to use a statement by Jeffs describing a revelation he received about a “secret combination” working against his sect’s practice of plural marriage.
The state says the comments go to the heart of its case against Jeffs, whom they allege enticed a woman known as Jane Doe to enter an arranged marriage to her 19-year-old cousin. Doe, who was then 14, said she objected numerous times to the marriage and, later, to having marital relations with her husband.
According to Doe, she stayed in the union because Jeffs said her heavenly salvation depended on it.
Based on this marriage, Utah authorities charged Jeffs, 51, with two counts of being an accomplice to rape, punishable by up to life in prison.
Jeffs’ attorneys argue their client did not intend and could not have known that nonconsensual sex would occur in Doe’s marriage, characterizing Jeffs’ comments to her as typical guidance offered by religious leaders. Jeffs became leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 2002, and quickly found himself embroiled in a showdown with state authorities over the sect’s marriage practices.
About 6,000 FLDS members live in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The timing of the contested statement, which Jeffs’ attorneys want the judge to bar, isn’t clear. A court document states he was speaking to a group of FLDS men.
“The Lord revealed to me that in 2003, a secret combination was in place between the apostates everywhere, many of them, and the government officials, and also traitors and half-hearted men, false brethren among the Priesthood people,” Jeffs is alleged to have said.
“And that conspiracy involved the passing of these laws, to call us criminal by performing marriages, so-called ‘under-age marriages . . . ‘ ” he continued.
Prosecutors say the statement shows Jeffs’ state of mind about marriage and backs Doe’s account of his refusal to cancel, postpone or release her from her marriage. The statement also shows the power and authority Jeffs holds over followers, the state maintains.
A second, longer excerpt reads, in part:
“The Lord . . . howed me that it was the intention of our enemies to pull me and many people into court and turn traitor by bearing witness in court of my father’s doings and my doings, concerning the Celestial Law of Marriage . . ..”
Jeffs’ attorneys pressed potential jurors about their views on 14-year-olds having sex, arranged marriage and the sect’s continued practice of plural marriage. Attorney Walter Bugden described polygamy as a core principal of the FLDS faith, whose members see themselves as engaged in “civil disobedience” of laws prohibiting plural marriage.
Fifth District Judge James L. Shumate explained that stance as akin to that of blacks during the civil rights era during an interview with one juror Wednesday. The FLDS see their civil disobedience as just like that of blacks who “refused to sit in the back of the bus” or to drink only from certain water fountains, he said.
Shumate made the comment as he explained that polygamy cannot be a concern to jurors seated in the case, even though it will be discussed during the trial.
Bugden asked prospective jurors if they are troubled by the practice, or see the FLDS as more likely to break other laws. One prospective juror responded that the FLDS “shouldn’t do it because it’s against the law, but if it’s their belief . . . ” she said. “Just because he’s breaking one law doesn’t mean he’s going to break 10 others.”
Another juror wondered, “Where’s the state been for the [past] 100 years?”