Key Witness Testifies in Case Against Polygamist A young woman who says polygamist leader Warren Jeffs forced her to marry — and have sex — at age 14 testifies in a court in St. George, Utah. Jeffs is accused as an accomplice to rape.
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Key Witness Testifies in Case Against Polygamist

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Key Witness Testifies in Case Against Polygamist

Key Witness Testifies in Case Against Polygamist

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I'm Robert Siegel.

And a warning that this next item deals with disturbing subject matter. It's from a courtroom in Utah where there was dramatic testimony today in a case involving polygamist leader Warren Jeffs. Jeffs is accused of two counts of committing rape as an accomplice. He was in court for a probable cause hearing.

Jeffs faced his accuser today for the first time. She's a young woman who was 14 when she says Jeffs forced her into a spiritual marriage with an older man and then forced her to have sex with that man.

Unidentified Woman: And then he proceeded to undress himself and then me and I - the whole time I was so scared I was just kind of frozen in place and I just said Jesus, please don't do this. I don't know what you're doing. He just continued. I said what are you doing? And he said I'm doing what I'm supposed to. And he said again this is what I'm supposed to do to you. You are my wife. We're going to have children and this is what has to be done.

SIEGEL: Howard Berkes is outside the courthouse in St. George, Utah. And Howard, we're not naming Jeffs's accuser because she alleges that she was raped. But she did appear in court today for the first time detailing her story in front of Warren Jeffs. What did she say?

HOWARD BERKES: Well, as we heard, she sobbed and cried and dabbed at tears as she spoke, as she told her story. Warren Jeffs was looking, stoic and dispassionate. And this woman, who's now 20 years old, detailed how she learned about her pending spiritual marriage to a 19-year-old man. This is not a marriage legally recognized by the state of Utah. She was horrified, she said, terrified. I was just 14, she said. I was in ninth grade. I'm not ready for this.

And she told about how she went to Warren Jeffs to at first stop the marriage and then later to dissolve it and to avoid the sex that came with that marriage. Jeffs told her that she must submit to her husband, that her heavenly salvation was at stake if she did not submit.

SIEGEL: Now has the defense responded to her testimony?

BERKES: The defense presented photographs of this couple together, smiling, holding hands. They were trying to diminish the power of that emotional testimony that we heard. The defense also read from love notes that the husband sent to this woman, trying to diminish the image of him as being menacing.

And after the hearing, defense attorney Walter Bugden addressed reporters, saying that there was no rape in this case, that Warren Jeffs had done what he was supposed to do as a religious leader. He gave religious advice to this couple as they entered into their marriage. And that that does not constitute rape or him aiding and abetting rape.

SIEGEL: Now, the spiritual husband, as they say, he was accused of committing the rape that Jeffs is said to have facilitated, hasn't been charged. Why not, if Jeffs has been charged?

BERKES: Prosecutors have said that they still may charge him, but the defense is asking the same question. How could there be an aiding and abetting of a rape if there's no charge for a rape? The defense suggests that it's premature to charge Warren Jeffs, but the guy who's actually accused of committing the rape hasn't been charged.

Now a source who's familiar with the circumstances of the accuser in the case has told me that the spiritual husband was not charged in order to protect the identity of the accuser. Now that her identity's out, it's possible now to charge him, although prosecutors haven't said when or if they will.

SIEGEL: So what happens next in this case, Howard?

BERKES: What happens next is that this hearing has been continued until next month. They ran out of time today. They'll hear more testimony and on December 14, they'll reconvene and at that point, we'll have a decision as to whether Warren Jeffs will stand trial for being an accomplice to rape.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you. That's NPR's Howard Berkes speaking to us from St. George, Utah.

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