ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) — At first, jurors said they had reached an impasse in the case of a polygamous sect leader charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice.
But after more deliberation, jurors in the trial of Warren Jeffs told Judge James Shumate they were making progress Monday and headed home after nearing a verdict. They are to return Tuesday.
“They believe they are close to a verdict on both counts, but they want to sleep on it for the night,” Shumate said.
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Jurors had sent a letter to Shumate saying they reached an impasse on one count against Jeffs, the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He is accused of rape in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her older cousin.
Jeffs, 51, has led the FLDS church since 2002. Followers see him as a prophet who communicates with God and holds dominion over their salvation; ex-church members say he reigns with an iron fist, demanding perfect obedience from followers.
The young woman in the case testified that she pleaded with church leaders to hold off the marriage because of her age but was told her “heart was in the wrong place.” She said she sobbed through the ceremony and had to be coaxed to say “I do” and kiss her groom.
The groom, Allen Steed, said the young bride didn’t cry or hesitate to kiss him. He said she initiated sex within weeks of the ceremony, waking him after he fell asleep in his clothes. He said he never forced her to do anything.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people alleging sexual abuse.
Each count of rape by accomplice against Jeffs represents a time frame in the marriage. The first count covers April 23, 2001 — the day of the wedding — until May 12, 2001. The second count covers May 13, 2001, to Sept. 30, 2003.
Jeffs was a fugitive for nearly two years and was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list when he was arrested during a traffic stop outside Las Vegas in August 2006. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Polygamy advocates have long contended that the freedom to practice plural marriage as part of their religion is a civil rights matter. Members of FLDS, which broke away from the Mormon church, believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.
The Mormon church disavowed polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates members found to be practicing plural marriage.