Polygamous-sect leader Warren Jeffs seeks new trial

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The polygamous-sect leader convicted of being an accomplice to rape is asking the judge who heard the case for a new trial.

Attorneys for Warren Jeffs filed the motion Tuesday in St. George’s 5th District Court, claiming “errors and improprieties” occurred during his four-day trial in September.

The document did not give specifics, but defense attorneys have contended that Jeffs’ prosecution was a form of religious persecution and was politically motivated by state officials who disapprove of polygamy.

Calls seeking comment from prosecutor Brian G. Filter and Jeffs’ lawyer, Wally Bugden, were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Jeffs, 52, is head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an insular sect based in southern Utah that practices polygamy in arranged marriages.

A jury found Jeffs guilty of two counts of accomplice to rape for his role in the 2001 marriage of 14-year-old Elissa Wall to her 19-year-old cousin. Wall, now 21, said Jeffs used his church authority to coerce her into the marriage and sex by threatening her eternal salvation.

Jeffs was sentenced Nov. 20 to two consecutive prison terms of five years to life and is in the Utah State Prison near Salt Lake City.

Jeffs’ attorneys argued during the trial that he did not arrange Wall’s marriage, nor was he ever told the girl was being forced into sex. Jeffs allowed the union to dissolve in 2004 after Wall became pregnant with another man’s child. She has left the church and remarried.

The Associated Press does not generally identify people who say they were sexually assaulted, but Wall has repeatedly used her maiden name in public. She and her lawyer have declined to say what name she uses now.

Prosecutors charged her one-time husband, Allen Steed, with rape the day after Jeffs’ conviction.

Jeffs faces two criminal trials in Arizona on similar charges. His Utah accuser is also an alleged victim in one of those cases. The church leader is also under federal indictment for flight to avoid prosecution.

FLDS members hold plural marriage as a central tenet of their faith, believing it brings glorification in heaven. The church has its roots in early Mormon theology, although the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavows any connection to the sect. The Mormon church abandoned polygamy as a condition of statehood in 1890 and excommunicates members who practice plural marriage.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday December 6, 2007.
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