Jeffs Found Guilty on Accomplice to Rape Charges A jury has found polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs guilty of two felony counts of being an accomplice to rape for performing a wedding between a young man and a 14-year-old girl. Jeffs, who leads the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, will be sentenced at a later date.
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Jeffs Found Guilty on Accomplice to Rape Charges

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Jeffs Found Guilty on Accomplice to Rape Charges

Law

Jeffs Found Guilty on Accomplice to Rape Charges

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There has been a verdict in the case of Warren Jeffs. The leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape. The case involves a 14-year-old follower who was married against her will to her older first cousin.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn is at the courthouse in St. George, Utah. And Wade, tell us what the scene was like in the courtroom when this verdict was read.

WADE GOODWYN: Well, I'd say the reaction from Jeffs and his supporters was one of a quiet grief. There were about 12 FLDS supporters there, mostly men who took care not to reveal themselves when the jury's verdict was read. The women followers, they bowed their heads in sadness and held their husbands' hands. You could tell they were expecting bad news.

And as for Warren Jeffs, he seemed shaken. His voice cracked when he was asked by the judge whether he wanted more time to prepare for his sentencing. It can't be easy to stand and absorb the shock of two guilty verdicts that could send you to prison for decades. And I thought it hit him with some force.

BLOCK: And it clearly was the prosecutor's argument that won over this jury.

GOODWYN: Yeah, it - the thing that I think won it for the prosecution was the testimony of the victim, Elissa Wall. She was a powerful witness. Her testimony was detailed. She wept continuously while she told the jury about how she tried to stop the marriage to her first cousin. I think she and her two sisters, who also testified for the prosecution, they made the government's case. Wall said she went to everyone she could think of - her mother, her stepfather, and finally to Warren Jeffs and his father, Rulon Jeffs - and begged them not to marry her off because she was too young.

And then, her testimony about the initial rape, which took place just two weeks after she was married, I watched the jury during that and they were riveted. Now, for the defense, Allen Steed, he was the 14-year-old girl's husband, he also gave a heartfelt testimony. But in the end, I think his credibility was too compromised by the fact that he was such an openly devoted follower of Warren Jeffs. And that was the defense's problem. Their entire case was put forth by Jeffs's followers.

BLOCK: Wade, last night, the jury had told the court that it was ready to vote this morning, so people were expecting a verdict. And then a surprise, one juror was dismissed and the jury had to start all over again. What happened?

GOODWYN: No one knows yet. The jury told Judge Shumate last night that they were ready to reach a verdict, but they wanted to sleep on it. So we thought the jury was going to come in this morning, deliberate a little while and then vote. But suddenly, the court announced that there'd been an event with one juror. That was the court's word, an event, that she was dismissed and replaced, that deliberations had to start all over again. But obviously, the woman alternate was somewhat on the same page as the other jurors. And it took them only a few hours more to reach a verdict.

BLOCK: Yeah. Wade, this is a big setback to Warren Jeffs and his polygamous sect, the FLDS. What happens to that sect now?

GOODWYN: That's a good question. I think it's impossible to know at this point. A significant number of Warren Jeffs's followers have moved out of Utah and Arizona to West Texas, a large piece of land. There is a small town called Eldorado, Texas. They have an extensive and impressive complex of homes, a magnificent temple. And Jeffs still has followers about 45 minutes from St. George. This is a culture that has been in existence for a long time, well over 100 years. And I don't think putting Warren Jeffs in prison is going to bring this way of life to a dead stop.

BLOCK: And briefly, Wade, any more charges that Warren Jeffs is facing?

GOODWYN: Yes. He's facing charges in Arizona and he's facing federal charges, too, so his prosecutions may not be over yet.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reporting from St. George, Utah. Wade, thanks very much.

GOODWYN: My pleasure.

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