A Utah judge Tuesday ordered Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints President Warren Jeffs to pay $16 million to a woman who was 14 when she was pressured to marry her 19-year-old cousin.
Elissa Wall will receive $4 million in damages and $12 million in punitive damages, 3rd District Judge Keith Kelly ordered in the lawsuit Wall first filed in 2005. Wall filed the case under the pseudonym ”MJ” when the events occurred.
Wall’s attorney Alan Mortensen said Tuesday the ruling allows for him and Wall to collect the money from Jeffs or the church. He described pursuing FLDS assets in various states as well as Mexico and Canada.
“It’s so the church feels the pain of what their doctrine has been as to the rape of young girls,” Mortensen said.
Through Mortensen, Wall issued a statement Tuesday.
“The judgment handed down by the Court is a big step forward in the fight for a strong and unmovable statement to the world that no one, especially children, can be sexual[ly] exploited and abused in the name of religion,” Wall’s news release said. ”Today is a victory for many thousands of victims of abuse. Many of us have stood up in our own way to fight for justice and further the protection of children.”
Neither Jeffs nor the church defended himself or itself in the lawsuit.
In his ruling, Kelly noted that Jeffs controlled the church and key aspects of Wall’s life. He arranged the marriage to Alan Steed over Wall’s objections and performed the ceremony. Jeffs also pressured Wall to have children with Steed. Miscarriages and a stillbirth followed.
Jeffs has been incarcerated since 2006. He is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in a Texas prison for convictions related to sexually abusing two girls he married as plural wives.
Wall testified that she has trust issues and other lingering effects from the relationship.
Wall testified at Jeffs’ trial in St. George. He was charged with rape as an accomplice. A jury convicted Jeffs, but the Utah Supreme Court overturned that conviction.
In 2016, Wall settled the portion of the lawsuit with the United Effort Plan, the trust that holds much of the property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the traditional home of the FLDS. Jeffs oversaw the trust at the time of the arranged marriage. The trust agreed to pay Wall $2.75 million in cash and property.
Steed pleaded guilty to solemnization of a prohibited marriage and pleaded no contest to unlawful sexual activity with a minor, both third-degree felonies. He received 30 days in jail and three years of probation.
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