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Jeffs’ fate now in hands of the Utah jury

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ST. GEORGE — A jury has started deliberations in the trial of polygamist-sect leader Warren Jeffs, who is charged in 5th District Court with two first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice.

Each count carries a sentence of five years to life in prison.

Jurors started deliberations shortly after 3 p.m. Before deliberations began, the judge dismissed four alternates, all women. The jury now consists of five men and three women.

The panel today heard impassioned arguments from both prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The jury will have about 45 pieces of evidence to review. The jury can acquit Jeffs of both charges; find him guilty on both counts; or guilty of one count.

This afternoon, in a rebuttal to Jeffs' defense team's closing arguments, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap reminded jurors of testimony given by the woman who says she was forced to marry and have sexual relations with her teenage cousin when she was 14.

The woman, he said, "would have never had sex, would have never entered the bedroom, if not for the actions of Warren Jeffs."

"You don't have to find that this is religious persecution," he said. "Perhaps that is what (Jeffs' attorneys) want you to do. But if you apply the law, you will find Warren Jeffs guilty."

The woman who testified against Jeffs — and who has been referred to in court documents and in court as "Jane Doe" — is Elissa Wall. Her attorneys made her name public today and relased a photograph of her taken 7 months before she was married to her 19-year-old relative in a 2001 ceremony presided over by Jeffs.

"She was 14 years when this happened," said Wall's attorney, Greg Hoole. "It is important to know that."

Earlier today, Wally Bugden, one of the attorneys defending Jeffs, spoke for nearly two hours in Jeffs' defense, spending time scrutinizing Wall's on-the-stand account of her marriage and relationship with man FLDS Church leaders chose as her husband.

Bugden reminded the jury that Washington County prosecutors had not presented any evidence that supported the woman's claims that she was being forced against her will to submit herself physically to her husband.

"You have to ask yourself, then," he said. "Why would sex happen? Because she wanted it to happen ... What happened in the bedroom was no different than anything else in their relationship. She did exactly what she wanted to do. She was not subservient to" her husband.

Bugden said Jeffs' prosecution was about religion.

He said government prosecutors could have charged Jeffs with solemnizing an unlawful marriage. Instead, he said, "they are prosecuting Warren Jeffs for rape because Warren Jeffs is the leader of a church they don't agree with. Instead, they dropped a nuclear bomb on this religious community and charged him with rape."

During his opening arguments today, Belnap said that Jeffs was wrong to force the girl to marry her teenage cousin and then encourage her to engage in sexual relations with the man. "When a 14-year-old is persuaded to submit to sexual intercourse, there is no consent," Belnap said.

Jeffs was first counselor in the Fundamentalist LDS Church at the time of the marriage ceremony. His father, Rulon Jeffs, was the prophet and the girl's stepfather, Fred Jessop, was the second counselor. Both have since died and Warren Jeffs is considered by faithful members of the FLDS Church to be their prophet.

Wall, now 21, testified last week that she did not want to be married to her cousin, and begged Jessop and Jeffs to be spared from the union. No one, she testified, came to her defense, adding she felt her mother and other adults betrayed her for insisting that she go through with the ceremony.

Two of Wall's older sisters, both of whom have left the FLDS faith, testified that the teenage bride cried and was distraught in days leading up to the wedding. Once married, the girl testified she sought a meeting with Jeffs to complain that her new husband was touching her in ways that she didn't like. Jeffs told her to repent, return home, and give herself, "mind, body and soul" to her husband, she said.

Wall testified she was terrified the first time the couple had sex and that her husband said it was "time for you to be a wife" when he forced himself on her. She said the event traumatized her so much that she swallowed two bottles of over-the-counter pain medication that night and later threw it up.

Jeffs defense attorney Tara Isaacson pointed out that Wall has filed a civil lawsuit against Jeffs and the financial arm of his church, seeking a $1 million settlement and property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Most members of the FLDS Church live in the twin towns about 50 miles east of St. George, although there are other settlements in Canada and several Western states.

Wall's former husband, Allen Steed, testified on Wednesday that he loved his wife and tried hard to make the marriage work. Steed, who has not been charged with a crime, testified the police never interviewed him about Wall's allegations until after Jeffs was charged in 2006.

Steed, now 26, said he barely knew his cousin when the two married. They share a polygamous grandfather. His attempts at moving marital relations along were awkward and clumsy, he admitted. Although his wife could be rude and cold to him in public, Steed said she would kiss and snuggle up to him at other times in private. He wrote her love notes during their 3 1/2 years of marriage, which the defense and prosecution both used as evidence.

Steed said the couple first had intercourse about three weeks into the marriage and that his wife initiated the sexual contact. Steed said he got home late after working a 12-hour shift and fell asleep in his clothes, only to wake up later with his wife rolled up next to him in bed. She wanted to know if he loved her, he said, and asked him to scratch her back.

"One thing led to another," he said, testifying he never forced his wife to have sex with him. His wife, he said, went to Canada without him, wouldn't finish her schooling and often was rude to him, yet he considered the marriage an eternal one and he tried to make it work.

Steed, who broke down several times while on the stand, testified Jeffs dissolved his marriage after he discovered a photo of his wife with another man in the community. Wall has since married the man and had a child with him.

Jurors also listened to several recordings of Jeffs teaching FLDS doctrine during home economics and priesthood history classes at an FLDS school in Salt Lake City nearly a decade ago.

Prosecutors sought to emphasize FLDS teachings about the roles of men and women in the polygamous sect. They argued that women are not allowed to disagree or show dissention and that a woman must submit herself to her priesthood head in all things. The men, they argued, answer only to the prophet, or Jeffs.

Several FLDS couples defended their faith on the witness stand, testifying that although their arranged marriages were difficult at times, they learned to love one another and were pleased with their mate. Troubles within marriage, even problems with intimacy, are often brought to the prophet for counsel, several people testified.

Steed and Jeffs' accuser both testified they went to Jeffs for counsel at times, both before and after the wedding. Steed said he sought advice on what he could do to help his wife be happier and more comfortable in the marriage.

Jeffs, he said, counseled him to "be kind and considerate, pray together, work together, play together and love each other."

E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com