Jeffs Sentenced for Being Rape Accomplice

Polygamist prophet gets two consecutive terms of five years to life

Polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, leader of the Mormon breakaway sect the Fundament­alist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life behind bars for acting as an accomplice to rape in connection with his arranging and officiating the marriage of a 14-year-old and her 19-year-old cousin.

Jeffs was convicted in a Utah court on Sept. 25. The child bride, Elissa Wall, now 21, testified that she pleaded with relatives to call off the arranged wedding to her cousin Allen Steed to no avail; Jeffs presided over the wedding in 2001 inside a Nevada motel room. Wall testified in court that she was cajoled into saying, "I do," and that Steed forced her to consummate the relationship a month later. A key part to FLDS life is arranged, polygamist marriage (aka "celestial marriage") – adherents believe a man needs at least three wives to be exalted into heaven, and only those wives that "stay sweet" and remain obedient will be allowed to tag along for that final ride.

Jeffs now faces similar charges in Arizona, for sexual misconduct and incest, and may be extradited there within six months, reports The Arizona Republic. Meanwhile, he remains in a Utah prison while his lawyer, Walter Bugden, prepares an appeal. Bugden told The Salt Lake Tribune it is his client's support of arranged marriage that actually led to the rape charge: "It is the wrong charge; he never should have faced this charge; it's unfair," he told the daily. "Mr. Jeffs' encouraging the couple to stay together when they had marital difficulties does not constitute accomplice to rape."

Judge James Shumate sentenced Jeffs to the two consecutive sentences on Nov. 20, crediting him with 15 months for time already served. How long Jeffs will actually remain behind bars is unclear; ultimately, a Utah parole board will make that decision.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Warren Jeffs, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elissa Wall, Allen Steed, Walter Bugden, James Shumate

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