United States: Utah court reverses polygamist leader convictions


The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed the convictions of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and ordered a new trial. Jeffs, 54, was convicted by a southern Utah jury in 2007 of two counts of first-degree felony rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 nuptials of Elissa Wall, then 14, to her 19-year-old cousin, Allen Steed. Jeffs is serving two consecutive terms of five years to life in the Utah State Prison on the convictions, but the high court ruled Tuesday that jury instructions on lack of consent were in error. Jeffs is head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The group, based on the Utah-Arizona state line, practices polygamy in marriages arranged by church leaders.

Defense attorney Wally Bugden has said the conviction should be overturned because the case facts never fit the charges and that prosecutors were motivated by a desire to dismantle the unpopular southern Utah-based church.

State attorneys contend Jeffs abused his religious authority to force the girl to marry and have sex.

Jeffs performed the couple's religious marriage in a Caliente, Nev., motel and later counseled Wall to be obedient and give her "mind, body and soul" to her husband.

During the trial and later in her book, "Stolen Innocence," Wall said she objected to the marriage and was forced into sexual relations with her husband.

"Under Utah law, that makes Warren Jeffs an accomplice to rape," Assistant Utah Attorney General Laura Dupaix argued before justice last fall.

The Associated Press does not typically name victims of alleged sexual assault, but Wall has frequently spoken publicly about the case.

Also Tuesday, Jeffs is scheduled to appear in 3rd District Court so a judge can ask him to sign a warrant seeking his extradition to Texas to face criminal charges there.

Texas authorities used family records gathered during a 2008 raid on a church ranch near Eldorado to charge Jeffs with bigamy, sexual assault of a child and aggravated assault. The charges allege marriages between Jeffs and girls ages 17 and 15 in 2005.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press last week, Bugden said Jeffs intends to oppose extradition.

27 July 2010