Allen Steed can’t get a fair trial, say lawyers

Attorneys for Allen G. Steed say the decision to charge him with rape only after he testified in the highly publicized trial of polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs has “irreparably tainted” his chance at a fair trial in Utah.

In documents filed Thursday, they ask 5th District Judge G. Rand Beacham to dismiss the case – or at least move it out of Washington County. Steed is represented by Salt Lake attorneys Jim Bradshaw and Mark Moffat.

The state is asking prospective jurors to “forget the unforgettable,” all they know about accuser Elissa Wall, Jeffs, Steed and the fundamentalist sect.

“Quite simply, the state is asking the impossible,” the filing states. Since the state can no longer guarantee Steed a presumption of innocence, “this court is obligated to terminate this prosecution.”

The state charged Steed, 26, a day after a jury issued a guilty verdict in Jeffs’ September trial – a move Steed’s attorneys call retaliation and one which “unfairly locked him out of the legal process.”

As a result, “a jury was allowed to ultimately find him guilty before any charges against him were actually levied,” Bradshaw said in the document. “What was once a question – was the alleged victim raped? – has now been resolved affirmatively in the public eye beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted in September on two counts of being an accomplice to rape. He officiated at the 2001 marriage of Steed and Wall, then 14, who had objected to the union.

Wall testified during Jeffs’ trial that, despite her protests, Steed had sex with her three weeks later. She asked Jeffs to release her from the marriage but was told to submit “mind, body and soul” to her husband.

Steed testified that Wall initiated sex and Jeffs counseled them to be kind to one another.

Steed learned in February 2007 that their marriage was the basis of the state’s criminal case against Jeffs – the result, Bradshaw said, of a “never-before-seen arrangement” between Wall and prosecutors.

In that contract, signed in January 2006, the state agreed to not identify, notify or talk to certain people, including Steed. The agreement required the state to drop the case against Jeffs if Wall’s identify leaked out before the case was filed or Jeffs was arrested.

“The practical effect of the agreement was to ensure that the state had to file charges after hearing only one side of the story,” the document states. “The state chose to pursue criminal charges against the high-profile accomplice without charging the principal.”

Jeffs’ trial was the most publicized legal proceeding in Utah’s history, Bradshaw said, and the delay in charging Steed damaged his due process rights by erasing any chance of a fair trial.

The strategy appeared aimed at boosting the criminal case as well as Wall’s multi-million dollar lawsuit against Jeffs and his sect’s property trust, Bradshaw said.

He argues the lapse in time since the alleged rape has wiped out some evidence; at least one crucial witness is dead – Wall’s stepfather Fred Jessop.

Steed’s attorneys said Jessop would have testified he arranged the marriage to rescue Wall from “her own self-destructive behaviors” and that she had a problem with “truthfulness.” In a second filing, Steed’s attorneys said the case meets standards for a change of venue based on unprecedented media coverage. Also, Wall has gone from “child bride” to “brave crusader,” while Steed is “much reviled.” And subtle views and opinions of the FLDS have been “whipped into a fevered, emotional frenzy.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday November 16, 2007.
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