In a Utah courtroom Monday morning, a woman who says she was raped by her first cousin after being forced to marry him at the age of 14 will be cross-examined by the defense in the most anticipated showdown yet in the trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.
The woman, now 21 and known in court papers as “Jane Doe IV,” testified Friday that after a month of unconsummated marriage, her husband told her it was “time for you to be a wife and do your duty.” Afterwards, she said, she tried to commit suicide by swallowing two bottles of over-the-counter painkillers.
With Jeffs looking on impassively from the defense table, she told a rapt courtroom that as her new husband undressed her, she told him, “I can’t do this. Please don’t.
“I was sobbing,” she said. “My whole entire body was shaking and I was so so scared. He didn’t say anything. He just laid me onto the bed and had sex.”
Afterwards, she testified, “I went into the bathroom and there was a couple bottles of painkillers … and I took both bottles. The only thing I wanted to do was die. I just wanted to die.” She said she eventually realized what she had done “and tried to throw up.”
Defense attorneys told a jury of seven women and five men in opening arguments that Jeffs merely married the couple, as was his practice as leader of the sect, and never specifically discussed intercourse with the woman.
“Pressure to marry is different from pressure to submit to rape,” defense lawyer Tara Isaacson said. She also said that Doe has a pending civil lawsuit against sect leaders, including Jeffs, and went to an attorney before going to police or a therapist. Isaacson also said that the woman has admitted that she eventually “sugared up” to her husband — consenting to sex when she wanted to spend time away from him with friends or family, or wanted spending money.
As a sect elder and later sect “prophet,” Jeffs paired the community’s girls and women with the men he said God told him in revelations were meant to be married. Sect teachings emphasize that young girls and women are to be obedient to their husbands and serve them “mind, body and soul” in order to achieve salvation in the afterlife.
Earlier Friday, Doe described being “shocked” to learn in 2001 that she was to be married at the age of 14 to an unknown member of her sect. She recounted how a church elder surprised her with the announcement that she would be married just two days before the event.
“I was shocked,” she told the Utah jury. “I asked him if he was sure it was myself and he wasn’t confusing me with someone else, because I was so young.”
Petrified, she said, “I asked him if I could know who it was I was to be married to and he said it would be revealed to me later.”
The witness said she insisted on a meeting with then sect leader Rulon Jeffs, the defendant’s ailing father.
She testified that she told the church elder who had announced her planned marriage, “I just want you to know I’m not going to do that…I told him I wasn’t going to get married. It was defying the prophet’s word … which was to us, God’s word. I told him that I would call Warren in the morning. I wasn’t going to do it and I was going to speak to the Prophet about it.”
On Thursday, she testified that she was taught Jeffs was the prophet and the only way to eternal salvation was a complete surrender to his teachings.
“The prophet was God to us. He was God on Earth and his counselors were pretty much the same, so they had jurisdiction over us,” the woman said, explaining why she agreed to Jeffs’ order to marry her 19-year-old cousin.
Jeffs — the leader of the 10,000-strong Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, locally known as FLDS — is charged with two counts of rape by accomplice. Prosecutors say he forced the woman into having sex with her husband when she was a teenager.
‘Please Don’t Make Me Do This’
When she learned of the marriage plan, Doe went straight to Jeffs and begged him to reconsider, saying that if she had to be married off so young, could it “at least [be] someone else,” Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap told a courtroom packed evenly with reporters and devout followers of Jeffs.
“She did not want to be in the same room” with her older cousin, Belnap told jurors. “She did not want to hold his hand.”
When Jeffs allegedly urged her to follow his directive, she told him “I feel like I’m too young,” Belnap said, adding that Jeffs replied that “the Lord wants you to go through with this.”
Belnap said the girl fled the room crying and demanded a meeting with Jeffs’ father, who was then the leader of the sect but had fallen ill in his old age. Appealing to the elderly church leader, Belnap said she got on her knees and begged him “please don’t make me do this. This is my first cousin” and “my heart is telling me this is wrong for me.”
But the marriage went forward as planned.
The prosecutor told of the young girl putting pajamas on over her clothing and pretending to be asleep while her new husband showered before entering the couple’s marriage bed – a queen sized mattress in her family home with a baby-blue comforter that the girl’s own parents had decorated with a heart design and left a plate of cookies on to “cheer her up” in her despair.
“As she cried and as she said ‘please don’t,’ her new husband deflowered her, Belnap told jurors.
Utah’s Age of Consent Is 14
But Jeffs’ defense team countered with a Power Point presentation, showing photos of the young girl smiling beside her new groom, and the seemingly powerful reminder to jurors that the state of Utah allows 14-year-old girls to legally consent to sex.
Defense attorney Tara Isaacson, a statuesque blonde Diane Sawyer-lookalike who stands 6’1 in her signature high heels, reminded jurors that the practice of polygamy was not on trial and that the core question in the case was whether Jane Doe IV “was really raped.”
Warren Jeffs “did not encourage [Doe] to have sex.
“He did not encourage her to have unwanted sex … Mr. Jeffs and [Doe] never explicitly discussed sexual intercourse,” Isaacson insisted, at one point walking over and resting her hand on Jeffs’ shoulders as the defendant sat unmoving. “He counseled [Doe]. He counseled [her husband], ‘make this marriage work.’ He never counseled her to submit to rape.”
Isaacson acknowledged that the sect practices a “patriarchal culture where wives are obedient … but only if the husband is acting in righteousness. Rape, of course, would never be righteous.”
She said Jeffs’ role as leader of the community was to encourage marriage, not rape.
“What did Warren Jeffs have to do with what was going on in her bedroom? Did he even know she was being forced to have sex against her will?”
“Pressure to marry is different from pressure to submit to rape,” Isaacson said.
She urged jurors to look beyond what she deemed negative portrayals of the sect in the media, though attempts to interview sect members outside the court were met with polite but consistent, disciplined silence.
“Treat Each Other Like Snakes”
At the heart of the case is the question of whether or not the teenaged girls in the sect have any real say in whom they marry. Former sect members and historians have recounted stories of girls pre-emptively seeking church leaders’ blessings in marrying their teen crushes. But it’s a tactic that can backfire, because any attraction between teenaged girls and boys in the community is allegedly sharply discouraged.
“The term that was used was that [prior to marriage] boys should treat girls and girls should treat like snakes,” Doe told prosecutors from the witness stand Thursday. “There was nothing permitted romantically.” Punishment for unauthorized romantic infractions, she said, ranged from social ostracization to being deemed “unclean” for even kissing a romantic interest.
But to hear it from the alleged victim, advanced sexual activity would have been clumsy and uninformed at best. She testified that no sexual educational whatsoever was offered in sect schools or at home, and young girls were assured that sex and its myriad complexities “would be taught to us by our husbands.”
During the defense’s opening argument, Isaacson quoted her client’s teachings to his sect that “there is no force” in the group’s religious beliefs and that the spiritual substance of marriages by “celestial law” — as they are known among the FLDS followers — are rooted in a covenant between husband and wife and the faith of the participants that God has ordained their leaders with His true will.
Jeffs spoke of these covenants in audiotapes of his sermons played in court Thursday.
But some of the seven women and five men on the jury appeared concerned to hear a section of one sermon Jeffs gave to a home economics class full of fifth- and sixth-grade girls at the sect’s Alta Academy grade school in November 1997, in which he lauded the sect’s system of arranged marriages.
“You don’t have to worry about ‘which man?’ and ‘do they like you’ and all of the silliness that goes on in the world,” he said, according to the tape played by prosecutors.
“It frees you completely from all the terrible mistakes that girls can make.”
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