Polygamist Leader to Stand Trial
Jeffs' Influence over Followers Described As Extraordinary
December 15, 2006
St. George, Utah -- A polygamist church leader accused of forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry and have sex with an older cousin in 2001 was ordered Thursday to stand trial.
Warren Jeffs, 51, pleaded not guilty Thursday in state district court to two counts of rape by accomplice. The leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints could face up to life in prison if convicted. A trial was set for April 23.
Prosecutors said the girl had no choice but to obey Jeffs, whose influence over his followers has been described as extraordinary, dictating everything from where they live to whom they should marry.
The girl "expressed her disdain, reluctance, opposition and total dislike of sexual relations," Judge James Shumate said.
Jeffs was charged with two counts because prosecutors have said they believe they can prove at least two instances of sex.
"The state has overcharged Mr. Jeffs. And shame on the state," said defense lawyer Wally Bugden, who argued that Jeffs had acted no differently than a priest, rabbi or marriage counselor.
Bugden said Jeffs is being prosecuted for his faith, which holds that polygamy will bring men and their wives glory in heaven.
Washington County prosecutor Brock Belnap said: "People are entitled to whatever religious beliefs they want. But religion is no excuse for child abuse."
The woman, now 20, was not in the courtroom to hear Shumate's decision. She testified last month that she felt "completely trapped and defeated" during a ceremony at a Nevada motel -- the "darkest time of my entire life."
The woman, identified as Jane Doe No. 4, left the sect after 3½ years, remarried and had a baby last week.
Outside court, her attorney Roger Hoole said she was pleased with and relieved by the ruling.
In closing arguments, Bugden told Shumate he would be making a "factual leap" to find probable cause for a trial.
"Saying I don't want to get married is not the same as saying I don't want to have intercourse," Bugden said.
Prosecutors said Jeffs, who performed the wedding ceremony, was responsible for any trauma because he counseled her to submit to her husband, "mind, body and soul."
The girl and her cousin united in an FLDS religious ceremony but never held a valid marriage license. The cousin has not been charged.
Jeffs also faces felony charges in Arizona, accused there of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old-girl and a 28-year-old man who was already married.
Jeffs was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list when he was arrested Aug. 28 in a traffic stop north of Las Vegas. He is being held without bail.
Jeffs' sect traces its roots to early Mormon theology, which promoted plural marriage. The modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavows polygamy and renounced the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah statehood.
FLDS members consider themselves "fundamentalist Mormons," although the mainstream church disavows any connection. They also consider Jeffs a prophet of God with dominion over their salvation.
The church has 10,000 members mostly living in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, on the Utah-Arizona border. The group also built a large development outside the remote West Texas town of Eldorado, about 40 miles south of San Angelo.
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