Rebecca Walsh: Jeffs case seems a little shaky

It’s a strange rape case when the attacker hasn’t been put on trial.

But that’s not the only thing that’s weird about the Warren Jeffs court saga.

Just the facts are bizarre. She was 14; he was 19. First cousins, they were ordered by Jeffs – their prophet, mind-bender and godfather – to marry in 2001, procreate and “stay sweet.”

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Weeks later, she cried in a bathroom after her “husband” pressed his advances; she swallowed bottles of Tylenol and ibuprofen, threw up and then went on with her spiritual marriage. She complained to Jeffs, but not to police. She had a series of miscarriages. After three years, she slept in her truck to avoid her husband and started a relationship with another man. Jeffs kicked her out of the fold. In 2005, she sued Jeffs in a civil case that still is pending. And then she finally called investigators.

Known only as “Jane Doe,” she is being treated like a classic rape victim. Newspapers aren’t naming her. She weeps, faceless, in courtroom tapes.

Even now, she doesn’t want her one-time husband tried. The defense is expected to put him on the stand to make the case that the rape never happened, that she consented. Washington County prosecutors still are considering whether to charge him – backward legal timing that allows them to cross-examine him before he’s been charged. His attorney is likely to tell him to shut up.

And that is what Utah’s and Arizona’s cross-border legal case rests on.

It seems a little shaky.

“They’ve got some factual issues to deal with,” says Fred Metos, a Salt Lake City defense attorney.

Metos says jurors may question the victim’s motives when they consider her civil suit. The fact that her “attacker” has not been convicted before his supposed “accomplice” may trip them up. “Jurors are going to have a hard time getting over that,” Metos adds.

They might not. It’s easy to see how an isolated teenage girl and indoctrinated teenage man would be thrown into a marriage they couldn’t see a way out of. I’m sure the sex itself was humiliating, traumatic and perhaps forced for a sheltered daughter of polygamists. But six years later, the details have become muddled.

Many Utah jurors probably share all the political motives of the prosecutors: dismantling the corrupt business arm of Jeff’s Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, normalizing Colorado City and Hildale and repudiating polygamy once and for all.

“We want to live down polygamy generally in this state. We want to avoid it at all costs,” says Gary Gale, an Ogden attorney who defended a Willard man who convinced a 16-year-old girl she was his spiritual wife. That “polygamist” is serving time for child bigamy and forcible sexual abuse.

A verdict against Jeffs would be symbolic.

But it wouldn’t be right – at least not until they convict someone of the crime he supposedly aided.

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