Polygamous Prophet Update

Court hears testimony of alleged victim of "spiritual marriage" arranged and presided over by Warren Jeffs

Warren Jeffs
Warren Jeffs

The child bride known in court records as Jane Doe No. 4, the alleged victim of a "spiritual marriage" arranged and presided over by polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs – leader of the breakaway Mormon sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – testified in a Utah court Nov. 22 that her forced marriage in 2001 to her first cousin was the "darkest time in my entire life." Her often tearful testimony came on the first day of a preliminary hearing in state court that will determine whether the state has sufficient evidence to try 50-year-old Jeffs on charges of rape-as-accomplice for his role in arranging the marriage between Doe, then 14, and her 19-year-old cousin.

Jeffs was arrested this year after being on the lam for well more than a year, dodging the Utah charges, lesser state charges in Arizona also related to arranging polygamist unions, and finally, a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Jeffs was added to the FBI's Most Wanted list in May and eventually had a $100K booty attached to his head. Until his arrest in August by a Nevada state trooper, the prophet hadn't been seen in public since January 2004, when he was spotted at the gated FLDS compound just outside the West Texas town of Eldorado, consecrating the site where the FLDS' first-ever temple now stands. If convicted of the rape charges, Jeffs, leader of a 10,000-member flock of fundamentalist Mormons, could face up to life in prison.

To win a conviction, Utah prosecutors will have to prove – beyond reasonable doubt – that Jeffs ordered Doe not only to marry her cousin, but also to submit to sex with him. Under Utah law (which, in part, defines rape as sex between a minor – 14 to 18 years old – and someone more than three years older), a third party can be charged with rape if they solicit, entice, or coerce the action. In court documents, Jeffs' attorney, Walter Bugden, reportedly asserts that Jeffs did not play that role: "merely by acting as the [FLDS'] religious leader, [Jeffs] did not affirmatively act to request, command, encourage or intentionally aid … in enticing or coercing" Doe, Bugden wrote. Jeffs claims he didn't know Doe had consummated her spiritual marriage – not a legal union, yet nonetheless formal under church doctrine. (For more on the FLDS, see "Meet the New Neighbors," July 29, 2005.) Furthermore, Jeffs and followers consider the state's actions nothing more than religious persecution – a defense unlikely to fly in court since the Utah Supremes earlier this year ruled that religious freedom is no defense to statutory rape.

Persecution fantasies aside, Doe was adamant in court that she did appeal to Jeffs and his father, Rulon, who in 2001 was still officially head of the FLDS – although Warren had already assumed many of the prophet duties – and other FLDS officials to block the marriage. It didn't work. "I said, 'I'm not willing to marry my cousin.' Everything is telling me not to do this. Every part of my soul," Doe reportedly testified. But Jeffs told her the marriage "was a revelation from God," she continued, "and this was an honor, (and) if you do not do this, your future will be in jeopardy." Doe said she was threatened with banishment and told she would be barred from entering the "celestial kingdom" if she didn't submit to the union. She wept while being fitted with her gown, she testified, and refused to say "I do" during the ceremony, held in room No. 15 at the Caliente Hot Springs Motel in Caliente, Nev. – roughly 150 miles from the FLDS stronghold historically known as Short Creek, made up of the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., just north of the Grand Canyon – a site reportedly chosen in order to duck Utah laws banning polygamist unions involving teen girls. "I felt totally powerless, trapped," Doe testified. "I was scared. I didn't have anywhere to go. My salvation was in jeopardy. I knew nothing else but what was in [FLDS] society. … I honestly wanted to die. I was so scared."

Jeffs' preliminary hearing is in St. George, Utah; state court will resume Dec. 14. Until then, he'll remain in the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah.

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Jane Doe No. 4, Warren Jeffs, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Walter Bugden, St. George, Utah, Purgatory Correctional Facility

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