Jury resumes deliberations in polygamous leader’s accomplice-to-rape case

ST. GEORGE – The jury in the trial of polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs has resumed deliberations this morning, picking up where it left off after two hours of discussion on Friday.

The jurors have much to sort through: six days of testimony, dozens of exhibits and a 21-page instruction booklet. The five men and three women asked just one undisclosed question of attorneys on Friday, according to court spokesperson Nancy Volmer.

Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with two counts of being an accomplice to rape related to a marriage he conducted in 2001 between Elissa Wall, who was 14, and Allen Steed, 19.

Wall, who has changed her name, has agreed to the use of the name she used at the time. On Saturday, her attorneys released a photo taken of Wall in her wedding dress the night before the ceremony.

Jurors may acquit or convict Jeffs, 51, on one or both of the counts, but the decision must be unanimous. If they are unable to reach a united decision, the case will have to be retried.

The crime is punishable by five years to life in prison.

Whatever the outcome, more legal troubles await Jeffs, who has been incarcerated at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane for more than a year.

He faces charges of being an accomplice to sexual misconduct with a minor and to incest with a minor in Arizona. He also faces a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in Utah.

The U.S. attorney for Utah plans to go ahead with its case, said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman. But she said federal prosecutors will talk with Utah and Arizona authorities to determine who takes the next turn.

Washington County Prosecutor Brock Belnap, assisted by lead prosecutor Ryan Shaum and Assistant Attorney General Craig Barlow, called just four witnesses to make the case against Jeffs. Prosecutors portrayed Jeffs as a dictatorial leader who ignored Wall’s protests and commanded her to do as told or face eternal damnation.

Jeffs’ lawyers – Walter Bugden and Tara Isaacson, of Salt Lake City, and Richard Wright, of Las Vegas – argued Wall’s family, not Jeffs, pressured her into the marriage. She never told anyone, including Jeffs, rape was occurring and the only counsel Jeffs gave her was aimed at helping her marriage succeed, they said.

Prosecutors allege the first rape count occurred between April 23, 2001 – the day Jeffs conducted Wall’s marriage – and May 12, 2001, when the couple took a trip to Canada to visit her sisters.

Wall said she told family as well as then-prophet Rulon T. Jeffs and his son Warren, then first counselor, she did not want to marry but was ignored.

Her family, she said, told her that “If I refused I would very likely never be married. . . . I would no longer be welcome in [stepfather] Fred’s [Jessop] home, and that I would not be deemed worthy.”

The marriage was consummated about three weeks later. She alleges she was raped; Steed alleges she initiated the sexual intimacy.

During the trip to Canada, Wall testified she was “extremely offish” to her husband but did not let on what was happening.

“I told them I didn’t want to be close to him and that I hated him,” she told jurors. “I told [a sister] that I wanted it over. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her why I felt the way I did about Allen at the time.”

The second count is alleged to have occurred between May 13, 2001, and September 30, 2003.

Wall testified that in May or June 2001 she met alone with Jeffs and told him that her husband was “doing things to me that I was not comfortable with and didn’t fully understand.”

Wall also told Jeffs that she did not want to have a family with Steed, apologized for failing “so severely” and asked to be released from her husband. She told jurors that it would have been unacceptable to use more specific language in her meeting with Jeffs and that she did not know what the word “rape” meant at the time.

Jeffs, according to Wall, told her to go home, repent and give herself “mind, body and soul” to her husband without question.

Wall said sexual relations continued despite her telling her husband that “I was not happy or not even comfortable being there in that kind of a situation with him, let alone experiencing those kinds of relations with him.”

Steed, who had not conferred with Jeffs prior to the marriage, also sought counsel afterward. Steed said he met with the sect leader two or three times privately.

The advice he received from Jeffs, he said, was to “take it slow. Try to get close. Try to show love. Be kind.” Jeffs offered much the same counsel when the couple met together with him once, Steed said.

He also told jurors that he never had sex with Wall unless she wanted to do so.

Wall acknowledged to jurors that after a few months of marriage, she began to “sugar up” the relationship with sex to get money and other things from her husband.

Sidebar: State of Utah vs. Warren S. Jeffs

* The allegation: Warren S. Jeffs conducted a marriage on April 23, 2001, between Elissa Wall, then 14, and her 19-year-old cousin. She testified that she repeatedly objected to the union and to having sexual intercourse with her husband but was enticed to cooperate by social and religious pressure.

* The charges: Two counts of rape as an accomplice, a felony punishable by five years to life in prison.

* The Utah precedent: The conviction of John Perry Chaney in June 1997 for conducting a spiritual marriage between his 13-year-old daughter and a 48-year-old man.

Also: The 1995 conviction of Joseph Robert Scieszka for enticing a 14-year-old girl to engage in sex by telling her God approved of the relationship.

* Applicable laws:

l Being an accomplice to rape occurs when a person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly solicits, requests, commands, encourages or aids nonconsensual sexual intercourse.

l The accomplice must be shown to have intended to commit the actual crime of rape.

l Under Utah law, a 14-year-old can consent to sexual intercourse, with limits. Teens this age cannot legally consent if the perpetrator is three years or more older and forced, coerced or enticed the victim.

* The defense stance: Allen Steed, Wall’s ex-husband, testified she initiated their first sexual encounter and he never forced her to have sex. Others promoted Wall’s marriage and Jeffs merely conducted it. Jeffs used common marriage vows, left it up for the couple to decide when to have sex, and did not intend for or know nonconsensual sex was occurring.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday September 24, 2007.
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