Civil Claim From Jeffs Would Help Girls Escape Polygamy

ABC News/October 1, 2007

Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs faces life in prison thanks to the chilling testimony from Elissa Wall, who said she was forced to marry her 19-year-old cousin when she was 14.

Wall is now 21 and remarried to Lamont Barlow, who also left Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, the renegade Mormon group that practices polygamy.

While testifying against Jeffs was extremely brave, Wall had already taken the most courageous step of her life by leaving the sect.

For her and Barlow, leaving the group meant leaving behind family members and everything they had known before.

Wall said today in an exclusive interview on "Good Morning America" that she is still in a sort of emotional exile from her family.

"We love so many people from there, and it's really hard for them to understand what we're doing," she said.

Pursuing Civil Case

Jeffs was found guilty of being an accomplice to rape, and now Wall's cousin, Allen Steed, is facing rape charges, though he said at the trial that their sex was consensual.

Newly released photos show Steed and Wall kissing, his arm tightly around her on their wedding day, and even the bed they slept in on their wedding night decorated with cookies by her family.

Looking at those photos now, Wall said she was numb at the time.

"I was very young at the time, so it was overwhelming and extremely scary," she said. "By that point, I was numb, and I was a 14-year-old trying to do what everyone told me to do."

Wall said that not only did she sob in the bathroom on her wedding night, she also swallowed painkillers.

Barlow said it might be hard for outsiders to understand the pressure young people in the FLDS face.

"When you have grown up this way, you're surrounded by a conviction that if you don't stay and do what you're told, it's damnation," Barlow said.

"First you need to understand these people are born into this. They don't have a clear view of the world as other people do. They're children that are raised up from birth to adulthood in this society. ...The leaders of the church have absolute control over every aspect," he continued.

Wall is also pursuing a civil case against Warren Jeffs. She said if she's awarded any money, she will start an organization and safe houses to help other girls escape polygamy.

"My goal is to give young girls and women the opportunity I didn't have as a 14-year-old girl forced into that position," Wall said. "I would love to create a fund and a way for young girls who want to make different choices to be able to make that possible for them because it's extremely hard to make that step."

Barlow said Jeffs should spend the rest of his life in jail.

"I think if he was to receive one month in jail for every family he destroyed, and I mean a family unit, I think he would spend the rest of his life in jail," Barlow said. "I don't want to come across as vindictive and hateful, but there are a lot of people who have been extremely displaced and harmed by this man."

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