A Smile Says it All at the Jeffs Trial

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An encounter with an FLDS member at the Warren Jeffs trial leads to an unexpected exchange between two groups who rarely communicated with each other.


In St. George, Utah, Warren Jeffs, the leader of the nations' largest polygamist sect, was found guilty on two counts of rape by accomplice. The case involved the unwanted arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old first cousin.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this Reporter's Notebook.

WADE GOODWYN: If you've never been, southern Utah has one of the most beautiful deserts in the world - massive red rock cliffs rise out of the red dirt; and at sunrise and dusk, it's breathtaking and humbling. A different slice of the southern Utah experience lined the walls of the main room of the county courthouse in St. George each day for three weeks. The followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints preferred to stand as they waited for court to begin or resume.

Unidentified Woman: All rise.

GOODWYN: The men wore suits; some wore cowboy-style suit jackets with patches of black suede decorating the front. There were about 15 men and perhaps three or four FLDS women who joined them every day in pioneer dresses.

The wives stood next to their men at all times, usually one step behind his right shoulder. And sometimes, one would reach forward with her left hand and surreptitiously hold her husband's right hand, which he'd put behind his back a little bit. The two of them facing the same way, a little apart but together.

Prosecutors ended their case by playing a tape of an FLDS member warning his brothers about the legal attack that was on the way by the states of Utah and Arizona. Listening, I was impressed with the depth and quality of the man's mind, but I didn't know who he was. And as we stood for recess, impulsively, I turned to the FLDS man who sat right behind me and said, excuse me, do you know who the gentleman speaking on the audiotape was? This was a breach of hereto for established etiquette. The FLDS does not generally speak to reporters.

Standing there, we looked into each other's eyes for maybe five seconds, separated by a row of chairs. As I realized he was not going to speak to me, I began to smile a little. After a hesitation, he began to do the same and then as his row began to move, he turned and walked away.

When I got outside, I was recounting the moment to our producer Amy Walters, and when I looked behind me to see if I could see him, there he was walking toward us. He immediately understood what I was talking about, and he grinned and almost nodded as he passed. Amy and I smiled back.

SIMON: NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

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