Jury in Jeffs Case Awaits Final Arguments

The defense rests at the trial of Warren Jeffs, leader of the nation's largest polygamous sect. The last witness was the 19-year-old groom in the arranged marriage of first cousins that lies at the center of the charges.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

The defense rested yesterday in the trial of polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs. The prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is charged with being an accomplice to rape. The case involves a 14-year-old follower who was allegedly married against her will to her older first cousin. And that cousin was the last and most important witness for the defense.

From St. George, Utah, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN: Allen Steed was the alleged victim's husband. He gladly took the stand to defend his beloved prophet, Warren Jeffs. Defense attorney Walter Bugden tried to show the jury that although the girl vigorously fought her marriage to her first cousin, Allen Steed was a nice guy.

M: Were you doing specific things to try to make her like you?

M: I'd write her letters, tell her I loved her as often as I could. I had to learn to love her, and I'm sure she had to learn to love me. I'm sure it wasn't easy knowing now how I was then.

M: Well, how were you then? What do you mean?

M: Well, I just didn't know very much. Didn't really know how to make a girl like me.

GOODWYN: Prosecutors presented evidence that the girl was shocked and devastated when she was told she was to be married. The girl, now 21, testified that she fought off her new husband's sexual advances for about three weeks. But late one night, he undressed her in their bedroom while she sobbed and asked him to stop. But Steed had a completely different story about their first time. In Steed's version, his young bride was the sexual aggressor.

M: I was really tired. I went to bed. As the night progressed, she woke me up and asked me if I cared about her. I loved her, and I told her I did.

M: Then what happened?

M: She rolled up close to me and she asked me to scratch her back. One thing led to the next until we, we had sexual intercourse.

M: By the time his direct testimony was over, Steed had provided the defense a sympathetic witness with an alternative storyline that didn't implicate their client in rape. But on cross-examination, prosecutor Craig Barlow quickly questioned Steed's motives in testifying. Since his wife left, Steed depends on Warren Jeffs to provide him with a new wife.

M: You're an active member of the FLDS church, is that right?

M: Yes, sir.

M: And you believe that Warren Jeffs is your prophet?

M: I do. He holds the keys to my eternal salvation.

M: The only way for you to get a wife and get to the celestial kingdom is if Mr. Jeffs approves it and arranges it, correct?

M: Yes, sir.

M: Important for you, then, to stay in his good graces, is it not?

M: Only at my decision.

M: Correct. If you choose not to go to the celestial kingdom, then you could break with Mr. Jeffs, correct?

M: Or if I decided there was another way.

M: Right now, you don't know of another way, don't you?

M: I don't believe there is one.

GOODWYN: And Barlow demonstrated to the jury that marrying a 14-year-old girl is not that big of a deal in the FLDS culture.

M: Didn't it occur to you that marrying a 14-year-old was illegal?

M: Not according to God's law.

M: I'm not asking about God's law, I'm talking about legal, according to the laws of the government. Did you recognize the government's laws?

M: I don't know of our government's laws that well, no.

M: You recognize them as binding on you, sir?

M: I guess not.

GOODWYN: Closing arguments will be on Friday, then the jury will decide whether a 14-year-old girl was raped and if a 59-year-old prophet should go to jail for life.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, St. George, Utah.

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