Leader of polygamist sect forced girl into marriage at 14, court hears

'Prophet' Jeffs accused of assisting statutory rape. Woman tells of hurried ceremony at Nevada motel

The Guardian, UK/November 23, 2006
By Ed Pilkington

A woman sobbed in court in Utah on Tuesday as she described how she had been forced into marriage at the age of 14 by the leader of a notorious polygamist sect.

In the most high profile legal action against polygamists since the national guard raided the community in 1953, Warren Jeffs, of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was brought before the court in St George to hear the evidence against him.

Mr Jeffs, who is revered as a prophet, is charged with assisting the statutory rape of the girl by arranging her marriage. His accuser, referred to as Jane Doe IV, spent four hours describing her three-year marriage to her first cousin. She said that when she was told she was to be married she protested that she was too young, but Mr Jeffs said it was God's calling. "The prophet has revealed this is your mission and duty and what you need to do," he allegedly told her.

The wedding ceremony was a hurried affair in a motel in Nevada with other couples also getting married. Jane Doe, now 20, said she told another girl that she could not go through with the ceremony, and the girl replied: "I cannot believe you are defying the prophet and God's will."

When the time came to give her consent to the union, she could not speak and Mr Jeffs glared at her. "He was drilling a hole in me with his eyes. The silence became unbearable. I finally said: 'OK, I do'."

After the ceremony, she said, Mr Jeffs encouraged them to "go forward, multiply and replenish the Earth with good priesthood children". On the wedding night she locked herself in the bathroom, but a few weeks later her husband said it was time for them "to do our responsibility" and raped her, she alleged.

Mr Jeffs is the spiritual head of a 10,000-strong community of polygamists in Hildale, on the border of southern Utah and Arizona. He was arrested in Las Vegas in August, having been on the run and on the FBI's most wanted list for 15 months.

His sect is the product of a rift within the Mormon church, which occurred in the 1890s when the mainstream church abandoned polygamy under pressure from the federal government. The Mormons reject any connection to the polygamists who they say are not Mormons at all.

A second hearing will be held on December 14 for the defence, after which the judge must decide whether there is sufficient evidence for a full trial.

After Tuesday's hearing, lawyers for Mr Jeffs told reporters from the Deseret Morning News that their client was the victim of religious persecution. "Regardless of how one feels about arranged marriages or plural marriages, there was no rape in this case, and we believe Mr Jeffs will be acquitted on these charges," one lawyer, Wally Bugden, said.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.