Polygamy sect leader sentenced in rape case
To serve 2 terms of 5 years to life
ST. GEORGE, Utah - A judge sentenced a polygamous-sect leader yesterday to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison for his role in the arranged marriage of teenage cousins.
Warren Jeffs, 51, was convicted of two counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the marriage of a 14-year-old follower and her 19-year-old cousin in 2001.
It will be up to the Utah parole board to decide just how long he stays behind bars. The average for Utahns convicted of such offenses is seven years, said Jim Hatch, a spokesman for the state parole board.
Jeffs is head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members practice polygamy in arranged marriages that have often involved placing young girls with older men. Most members of the sect live in the communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., about 350 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
Washington County prosecutors said Jeffs enticed Elissa Wall into marriage and sex against her will by telling her that 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 younger than 18 is enticed by someone at least three years older.
Wall, now 21, testified that Jeffs failed to help her when she protested the marriage and when she later 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 he denied that she had cried during their wedding ceremony.
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 events that led to Jeffs being taken to a hospital.
The documents also included selected jail transcripts of phone calls and visits between Jeffs and members of his church.
Although he has been president, or prophet, since 2002, following the death of his father, Rulon, 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.
Steed was charged with rape the day after Jeffs's conviction. His case is pending.