|Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs Sentenced to 5 Years to Life
November 20, 2007
ST. GEORGE, Utah - A judge sentenced a polygamous-sect leader to five years to life in prison for rape as an accomplice Tuesday, the result of a marriage arranged for a 14-year-old follower and her 19-year-old cousin.
Warren Jeffs, convicted on two counts in September, was ordered to serve the sentences consecutively. It will be up to the Utah parole board to decide just how long he stays behind bars.
Jeffs, 51, is head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members practice polygamy in arranged marriages that often involve placing young girls with
Washington County prosecutors said Jeffs enticed Elissa Wall into marriage and sex in 2001 against her will by telling her the relationship was commanded by God and that any refusal would place her salvation at risk.
Jurors said Wall's age was a major factor in their decision.
Under Utah law, a 14-year-old can consent to sex in some circumstances. But it is not considered consensual if a person under 18 is enticed by someone at least three years older.
On the witness stand, Wall, now 21, said Jeffs failed to help her when she protested the marriage and when she asked for a divorce because she was uncomfortable having sex with Allen Steed.
Steed, now 26, told a different version of events. He said Wall initiated sex and did not sob through their ceremony in a Caliente, Nev., motel.
On average, Utahns convicted of rape or other first-degree felony sex offenses spend seven years in prison, said Jim Hatch, a spokesman for the state parole board, which has much discretion in releasing convicts.
Weeks after the Sept. 25 verdict, the judge unsealed court documents that disclosed a suicide attempt by Jeffs in jail. He apparently attempted to hang himself in January, months before trial.
Authorities have declined to discuss the incident, although Jeffs was taken to a hospital for just a few hours.
The documents also included selected jail transcripts of phone calls and visits between Jeffs and members of his FLDS church.
He has been president, or prophet, since 2002, following the death of his father, Rulon. But Jeffs said in jail that he had not been worthy of the "priesthood" for decades.
"I was immoral with a sister and a daughter when I was younger, so the Lord showed me I'm one of the most wicked men on the face of the Earth since father Adam's time," Jeffs said.
He never elaborated on the immoral acts.
Besides the Utah case, Jeffs faces similar criminal charges in Arizona and is under indictment in federal court in Salt Lake City for his time as a fugitive. He was arrested outside Las Vegas in August 2006.
The Associated Press does not typically name those who allege sexual abuse, however Wall has made several public statements about the case using her maiden name. Citing safety concerns, both she and her attorneys have declined to disclose her current legal name.
Wall was granted an FLDS divorce by Jeffs after she became pregnant with another man's child. She left the faith and is married.
Steed was charged with rape the day after Jeffs' conviction. His case is pending.
Most FLDS members live in the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., about 350 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
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