The saga of the self-proclaimed Christian prophet Warren Steed Jeffs seemed to come to an end Tuesday as jurors found him guilty of pushing a 14-year-old girl into marriage. He has been found to be an accomplice to rape.
Jeffs, 51, holds the title of President and Prophet, Seer and Revelator of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the FLDS.
AdvertisementThe charges stem from Jeffs' practice of arranging marriages between adult male followers and underage brides.
The young accuser at the center of the trial is under police protection. "Jane Doe," as she is known in court documents, was 14 at the time she says Jeffs forced her into a "spiritual marriage" with a 19-year-old first cousin.
A reluctant child bride told a Utah jury that she was trying to preserve her eternal salvation when she obeyed Jeff's command.
She said she disliked her cousin because he once had sprayed her with a water hose on a freezing day.
"I preferred to stay away from him," she stated.
She told the jury she was given less than a week's notice that she was to be married.
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. The woman testified that FLDS girls receive no information about their bodies or reproduction. She said she didn't even know sex was the means by which women conceived.
The woman said the couple were married for at least a month before they had intercourse, and that her husband told 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.
"This trial has not been about religion or a vendetta. It was simply about child abuse and preventing abuse," the woman, now 21, said in prepared remarks after the verdict.
Jeffs stood and wore a stoic look as the verdict was read.
Jurors said they agreed that Jeffs rejected the girl's pleas and later refused to release her from the marriage when she complained about relations with her husband.
"He was pretty much her only ticket out of the relationship," said juror Jerry Munk.
"Religion was definitely involved, but I don't think it was about that," said juror Heather Newkirk.
The couple was finally granted an FLDS divorce, or a release, as it is called, in 2004 when the teen bride became pregnant with another man's child. She has since left the faith.
Members of the FLDS practice polygamy in marriages arranged by the church prophet. Polygamy was not on trial here — the couple was monogamous — but the case focused attention on its continued practice.
Brought to Utah by members of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, polygamy was abandoned by mainstream Mormons as condition of statehood in 1890. The Mormon church now excommunicates members who engage in the practice. It disavows any connection with the estimated 30,000 self-described Mormon fundamentalist who continue to believe plural marriage brings exaltation in heaven.
Jeffs succeeded his father in 2002 as president of the FLDS, who since the 1920s have lived in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona.
In Arizona, Jeffs is charged with eight felonies for being an accomplice to incest and sexual misconduct with minors in connection with marriages involving two underage girls.
In addition, Jeffs is under federal indictment in Utah on charges of fleeing to avoid prosecution. He was arrested last year during a traffic stop near Las Vegas after about 18 months on the run.
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