ST. GEORGE, Utah — A jury went home Friday without reaching a verdict in the trial of the leader of a polygamous sect who is accused of sex crimes related to the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl and an older cousin.
The jury of five men and three women deliberated for roughly two hours and will return Monday to southern Utah’s 5th District Court.
Warren Jeffs, 51, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice.
Prosecutors claim he used his authority to demand the teen bride enter a ceremonial marriage in 2001 and have sex with her cousin, who was 19.
In closing arguments, however, a defense attorney said Jeffs is a victim who was pursued by authorities because of his religion.
“His church, his religious beliefs is what’s on trial here and it’s being dressed up as a rape,” Wally Bugden told jurors.
The arguments followed five days of testimony in which the young woman, now 21, and her former husband, Allen Steed, gave conflicting accounts of Jeffs’ influence over them, especially in sexual matters.
The young woman spent nearly three days on the witness stand, sobbing as she recalled how she pleaded to avoid the marriage and begged Steed to end his sexual advances.
Prosecutor Brock Belnap said Jeffs was in a position of “special trust,” a key phrase that is part of the jury instructions.
“Warren Jeffs was a principal and a teacher and religious leader in that community for 20-some-odd years, teaching young girls that they must keep the bars up and treat boys like snakes. But when they get married, to let the bars down,” Belnap told the jury.
During the marriage ceremony, Jeffs told the couple to “go forward and multiply and replenish the Earth,” Belnap said. “He was commanding them to have sexual intercourse, and it was without her consent.”
Bugden, however, said the woman waited several years before talking to police. Steed, now 26, has not been charged.
“They prosecuted Warren Jeffs for rape because he is the leader of a church and a religion that the state doesn’t agree with,” Bugden said.
The FLDS church, which broke away from the mainstream Mormon church, practices polygamy and arranged marriage in twin communities on the Utah-Arizona border.
During the trial, the young woman said she had sex weeks into her marriage after Steed said “it was time to be a wife and do your duty.”
“I felt dirty and used,” she said.
She said she had no option because FLDS culture dictates that women obey their husbands, who hold religious authority in the home. She said she downed two bottles of over-the-counter painkillers after having sex for the first time.
In his instructions to the jury, Judge James Shumate said a 14-year-old, under Utah law, can consent to sex in some circumstances.
But that consent is eliminated, he said, when a person under 18 is “enticed” by someone at least three years older. Someone can be found guilty if he or she holds a position of “special trust” over another person under 18.
During a tearful day in the witness box Wednesday, Steed described a different 31/2 year marriage than his former teen bride.
He said he never forced her to have sex and that she initiated their first sexual encounter. He said Jeffs recommended patience and prayer for the couple, not submission and blind obedience.
Bugden asked jurors to compare the two personalities at the center of the case.
The woman was described by some witnesses as a high-spirited person who sometimes called Steed a “devil with a pitchfork” and made decisions contrary to his advice.
“This was not ‘Miss Submissive.’ This was not ‘Miss Docile.’ She was never stripped of her independence,” Bugden said. “She was not afraid of Allen. She was openly defiant. The relationship with Allen was entirely on her own terms.”
Jeffs was the No. 2 FLDS leader in 2001, subsequently ascending to president, or prophet, after the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs.
The marriage ended in 2004, after the woman became pregnant with another man’s child. She left the church and is remarried.