Former under-age polygamous bride tells all in book

Months after helping to send Warren S. Jeffs to prison, Elissa Wall is telling her story in a book she hopes will lead women and girls to leave his polygamous sect.

Stolen Innocence debuts amid a child custody battle in Texas involving the polygamous lifestyle and marriage practices of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Wall was traveling Tuesday to New York for an exclusive appearance on the “Oprah” show, according to Roger Hoole, her attorney.

She writes, however, that her goal is to help other young girls and women in the sect “cry out against injustice” and reclaim “the power of choice.”

The book’s fulcrum is Wall’s 2001 arranged marriage at age 14 – despite her objections – to her cousin Allen Steed, then 19.

The marriage was the basis of Utah’s criminal charges against Jeffs, who conducted the marriage. He was convicted last fall of being an accomplice to rape and is serving two five-to-life sentences.

Jeffs also faces charges in Arizona based on Wall’s marriage and another he conducted. A hearing is set Friday on motions in those cases. A rape trial also is pending for Steed.

Using pseudonyms for many FLDS members and most of her family, Wall describes her childhood growing up in Salt Lake City as one of 22 children her father eventually had with three wives.

But conflict simmered between her father and his wives. Her parents’ union deteriorated as her brothers, and occasionally her sisters, rebelled.

Her mother was reassigned in 1999 to Fred Jessop, the sect’s bishop, and they moved to Hildale.

Wall was stunned to learn from Jessop that she was to be married at age 14. All of her sisters had been 18 when they wed, except for one that married at 17.

“I hadn’t heard of anyone getting married at fourteen for some time,” she writes.

Wall covers the same ground laid out in her testimony during Jeffs’ trial about her failed efforts stop her marriage to Steed and the miserable months and years that followed.

Wall describes Steed as boorish and odd; she was disturbed that he put clear polish on his fingernails and was put off by his constant sexual advances. Wall writes that she and Steed fought often and “he’d slap me or push me up against the wall.”

Working at a restaurant in 2003, she met Lamont Barlow, with whom she eventually started an affair that led her to leave her husband and the sect.

Wall writes that she was encouraged by her sister, Rebecca Musser, and a brother – identified as “Kassandra” and “Craig” in the book – and Lamont Barlow’s uncle, Jethro Barlow, in 2005 to meet with law enforcement.

“They were working hard to remove Warren from power, and I was viewed as someone who could help them,” Wall writes.

But Jeffs’ conviction seems to have had little effect on the FLDS, Wall said.

“To my disappointment,” she writes, “little has changed in the community, and life continues on much as it did under Warren.”

Attorneys for Jeffs and Steed had not yet seen Stolen Innocence but are worried about its effect.

“It is obvious that Ms. Wall has determined that obtaining publicity is more important than Mr. Steed obtaining a fair trial,” said Jim Bradshaw, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents Steed.

Michael Piccarreta, an Arizona attorney representing Jeffs, said he sought to have the book delayed until after his client’s trial but never got a response.

“She will be the one witness in the courtroom with a financial interest,” Piccarreta said, adding that, “It will be difficult if not impossible to get a jury for a fair trial.”

Hoole, who also is representing Wall in a multimillion dollar lawsuit against Jeffs and the FLDS church, called those worries nonsense.

The book “doesn’t change any of the facts,” Hoole said. “Nobody on the jury will have read this book” – meaning that any potential jurors who are familiar with the book will be disqualified from the panel.

Hoole said Wall, now 21, is trying to empower other FLDS girls. “I personally hope that every FLDS girl gets a copy,” he said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday May 14, 2008.
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