FLDS Leader Convicted in Child Rape
Polygamous prophet Warren Jeffs has been convicted on two counts of rape as an accomplice and faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced late this year. This is Jeffs' first criminal conviction, although the cult leader faces civil lawsuits in several other cases filed by former followers.
Jeffs, who finally was brought to trial after nearly two years on the run, is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which splintered off from the Mormon Church in 1890 and has compounds in southern Utah, northern Arizona, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, Canada and Mexico.
In addition to his controversial teachings on the marriageability of young girls, the rail-thin prophet preaches to his more than 10,000 followers that "the black race is the people through which the devil has always been able to bring evil unto the earth." He says that gay intimacy "is the worst evil act you can do, next to murder." And he believes that members of the government and the Mormon Church, plus all those outside the cult, are "wicked" people who God will strike from the earth.
Jeffs showed no emotion as the jury's Sept. 25 verdict was read. He is to be sentenced in the late fall, and faces a term of five years to life in prison on each count.
The conviction stems from Jeff's role in arranging the marriage of an unwilling 14-year-old girl, Elissa Wall, to her 19-year old cousin, Allen Steed, in 2001.
In riveting testimony, Wall told the jury that Jeffs performed the wedding ceremony, ordering her to "go forth and replenish the Earth and raise good priesthood children."
Wall said she was terrified and knew nothing about sex. Steed made repeated sexual advances, which Wall tried to rebuff, begging him to leave her alone. Steed eventually forced himself on her. "I didn't understand why he had done what he had just done," Wall testified. She attempted suicide that night.
Wall said she appealed to Jeffs to release her from her marriage. He instead told her to give herself to Steed "mind, body and soul, and obey him without question."
The day after the verdict against Jeffs was read out in court, Steed was charged with first-degree felony rape.
"I hope that all FLDS girls and women will understand that no matter what anyone may say, you are created equal," Wall told reporters.
Law enforcement officials are optimistic that the conviction will encourage more victims to come forward. But Jeffs' incarceration has had no visible effect on his followers, and he is likely to retain his control over the sect from prison.
"The most devout FLDS followers will see Jeffs' conviction as a persecution," Ken Driggs, an attorney and FLDS scholar, told The Salt Lake Tribune. "Those followers would have seen an acquittal as proof God is protecting Jeffs. To some extent, he wins with either outcome."