(AP) ST. GEORGE, Utah The leader of a polygamous Mormon splinter group was convicted Tuesday of being an accomplice to rape for performing a wedding between a 19-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl.
Warren Jeffs, 51, could get life in prison after a trial that threw a spotlight on a renegade community along the Arizona-Utah line where as many as 10,000 of Jeffs’ followers practice plural marriage and revere him as a prophet with dominion over their salvation.
Jeffs is the leader of a renegade Mormon splinter group called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members live in two remote towns along the Utah-Arizona line, practice plural marriage and regard Jeffs as a prophet with dominion over their salvation.
Jury deliberations began from scratch Tuesday after the judge replaced a juror with an alternate for undisclosed reasons. The night before, the jury told the judge it was close to a verdict after 13 hours of deliberations.
While polygamy itself was not on trial — the couple were monogamous — the case has focused attention on the practice of polygamy in Utah, where it generally has been tolerated in the half-century since a government raid in 1953. The raid was a public relations disaster after children were photographed being torn from their mothers’ arms.
At the trial, widely different versions of the relationship — and Jeffs’ influence — were presented by the young woman, now 21, and her former husband, Allen Steed, 26.
At their wedding in 2001 at a Nevada motel, the woman said, she cried in despair when pressed by Jeffs to say “I do” and had to be coaxed to kiss her new husband. She said the couple were married for at least a month before they had intercourse, her husband telling her it was “time for you to be a wife and do your duty.”
“My entire body was shaking. I was so scared,” she testified. “He just laid me on the bed and had sex.”
Afterward, she slipped into the bathroom, where she downed two bottles of over-the-counter pain reliever and curled up on the floor, she said. “The only thing I wanted to do was die,” she said.
But Steed testified that his teenage bride initiated their first sexual encounter, approaching him after he fell asleep in his clothes after a 12-hour day at work.
Under Utah law, a 14-year-old can consent to sex in some circumstances. But sex is not considered consensual if a person under 18 is enticed by someone at least three years older.
The mainstream Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago, excommunicates members who engage in the practice, and disavows any connection to the FLDS church.
Jeffs was also charged in Arizona with being an accomplice to both incest and sexual misconduct with a minor for arranging marriages between two underage girls and relatives of theirs. In addition, Jeffs is under federal indictment in Utah on charges of fleeing to avoid prosecution.
The charismatic Jeffs was captured in a traffic stop last year just outside Las Vegas after about 18 months on the run. At the time, he was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, alongside such figures as Osama bin Laden.
Jeffs was in a red Cadillac Escalade in which investigators found more than $57,000, cell phones, prepaid credit cards, wigs and sunglasses.
Since at least the 1920s, members of the FLDS have lived in the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, where the women wear long prairie dresses and have long braided hair, and the men dress modestly, often in buttoned-up shirts.