Warren Jeffs Wins New Trial After Utah Court Reverses Rape-Accomplice Convictions

A few hours ago, the Utah Supreme Court announced that it has reversed the 2007 criminal convictions against Warren S. Jeffs, the super-creepy messianic leader of an Arizona-based polygamous sect.

We have written often in these pages about Jeffs (pictured smooching one of his young "brides") and his sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).


FLDS is a splinter group from mainstream Mormonism. It's a cult-of-personality outfit whose flock of about 10,000 mostly is based in Colorado City, Arizona, Utah, Texas, and British Columbia.

Jeffs was serving consecutive five-to-life prison terms after his September 2007 convictions for being an accomplice to rape involving a 14-year-old girl.

The Utah court's ruling today means that the pale-faced 56-year-old -- a living, breathing "prophet," according to his own tenets -- gets a new trial.

That case against Jeffs stemmed from the 2001 marriage of sect members Allen Steed and Elissa Wall (then 14).

Wall testified that she had objected strenuously to the marriage and to having sex with her new husband. But she said Jeffs instructed the couple during the wedding ceremony to "go forth and multiply" and ignored her later pleas to let her leave the union.

Jeffs' defense attorney claimed that Jeffs merely was an officiant at the ceremony, and that it was Wall's immediate family who urged the union between the girl and the much-older man.

The Utah high court ruled unanimously that the trial judge erred when he declined to order the jury to find Jeffs intended for a rape to occur. Instead, the judge instructed jurors in such a way that the panel was compelled to focus on Jeffs' position as spiritual leader rather than on the actions of Wall's husband, Steed.

"Even if Jeffs never intended for Steed to rape Wall," the court wrote, "the jury instruction allowed for the possibility that he would be found guilty simply because he intentionally performed the marriage ceremony and the existence of the marriage aided Steed in raping Wall."

The Utah court noted that it regrets "the effect our opinion today may have on the victim of the underlying crime, to whom we do not wish to cause additional pain," but said that's the way it goes when it comes to applying the law "evenly and appropriately."

Coincidentally (we think), Jeffs is scheduled to appear in court today in Utah, where prosecutors will ask him to waive extradition to the state of Texas to face other criminal charges.

He is charged in Texas with aggravated sexual assault of a child, bigamy, and sexual assault of a child. The first two counts stem from the alleged July 2006 marriage between Jeffs and a 12-year-old girl at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado,  

The third charge concerns an underage girl whom Jeffs allegedly impregnated in 2005.

What a "prophet!"

Here and here are another couple of stories written about Jeffs and his not-so-merry gang of polygamists by our former colleague John Dougherty, who now is running in the Democratic primary for United States Senate.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin