Man Charged in Rape of Teenager in Fundamentalist Sect

New York Times/September 27, 2007

The star defense witness for the polygamist Warren S. Jeffs, who was convicted in Utah on Tuesday of being an accomplice to the rape of a girl in his fundamentalist sect, was charged himself on Wednesday with physically committing the rape.

The witness, Allen G. Steed, 26, testified in the trial that there had been no rape. He said he and his first cousin, then 14, had been joined in a "spiritual marriage" by Mr. Jeffs and had had consensual sex about two weeks after the ceremony.

The girl, testifying for the prosecution, told the jury the sex with Mr. Steed, who was 19 at the time, was not with her consent.

The jury believed the girl, who was called Jane Doe in the early days of the trial but later gave permission to use her name, Elissa Wall. In their verdict, jurors found that Mr. Jeffs, in putting together the marriage over the girl's objections, then later rejecting her plea to be released, had been an accomplice to the crime against her.

In interviews after their verdict, jurors said specifically that Mr. Steed was not credible.

"Allen contradicted himself several times on the stand," said the jury foreman, David Finch, 64, a retired engineer.

A spokesman for the Washington County Attorney's Office, Brian Filter, said that the case against Mr. Steed had been in the works for some time, but that prosecutors had decided to wait until the Jeffs trial was over — partly, he said, because of concerns about influencing the jury's deliberations.

Mr. Steed's lawyer, James Bradshaw, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Mr. Jeffs, 51, is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has an estimated 10,000 members, mostly in the Southwest. The church split off from the mainstream Mormon faith — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — decades ago after the Mormons renounced the practice of polygamy. The churches have no connection.

Mr. Jeffs faces up to life in prison at his sentencing on Nov. 20. His lawyers have said they will appeal.

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