Juror removed in Warren Jeffs case just as verdicts were near

ST. GEORGE, Utah – A juror was removed Tuesday in the trial of a polygamous-sect leader accused of sex charges, suspending deliberations on what was expected to be a day of verdicts, a court spokeswoman said.

“We have had an event with a juror. We are replacing that juror with an alternate,” spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said. She had no other details.

Deliberations were supposed to resume Tuesday at 9 a.m. MDT, after the five men and three women told the judge Monday night they were close to a verdict on the two charges but wanted to sleep on the decision.

Warren Jeffs, the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is accused of rape by accomplice in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin.

Jurors reported an impasse mid-afternoon Monday on one of the two charges. But with encouraging words from 5th District Judge James Shumate, they returned to deliberations and emerged in the evening saying they were nearly done with their work.

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, now 21, 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 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.

Jeffs is not charged with being a polygamist, and the three-year marriage between the cousins was monogamous. Still, polygamy casts a shadow over the case.

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.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday September 25, 2007.
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