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Utah is offering immunity to man who took child as bride

Published May 30, 2014 3:53 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has filed a motion seeking to give Alan Steed immunity if he tells lawyers about the agreement he reached with his former wife, Elissa Wall, concerning her lawsuit against polygamous leader Warren Jeffs and other parties.

What's not clear from the motion is whether the attorney general is seeking to conduct a criminal investigation of Wall.

First, here's a reminder of what this lawsuit, titled MJ v. Warren Jeffs, is about.

Wall (who is MJ) was 14 when she was allegedly forced to marry a then-19-year-old Steed — a marriage allegedly arranged by Jeffs. Wall's testimony helped convict polygamous leader Warren Jeffs. (The Utah Supreme Court later overturned the conviction.)

Wall is suing Jeffs, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the United Effort Plan. The UEP is the state-run trust that owns much of the homes and property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. It's also the only defendant who is actually defending the lawsuit and, probably, the only party with assets Wall could pursue. Wall's lawyers have said they are seeking $30 to $40 million.

As part of the 2011 agreement between Steed and Wall, Steed agreed to not assist the UEP in defending against Wall's lawsuit. In return, Wall agreed not to oppose the resolution of Steed's criminal case.

Next, the motion: The attorney general is asking 3rd District Court Judge Keith Kelly to let it intervene in the lawsuit. The motion says the intervention, if Kelly grants it, will be limited to discovering more about the agreement between Wall and Steed.

Steed previously cited the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer questions about the agreement. But the attorney general's motion says it will give Steed immunity from any crimes arising from the agreement if he answers questions. (Steed has already served 30 days in jail for sex crimes related to the marriage.)

From the motion:

"Unlike the Fiduciary, it is within the Attorney General's discretion to grant immunity from prosecution to Steed or others who may have knowledge about the settlement agreement, but have concerns that they may incriminate themselves by disclosing such knowledge. With a grant of immunity, individuals with knowledge of the settlement agreement would no longer need the protections afforded by the Fifth Amendment and, thus, the truth about the purpose of the settlement agreement may be discovered."

We wrote previously about the agreement between Steed and Wall. Attorneys for the United Effort Plan have referred to the deal as "witness tampering." The attorney general's motion says it is seeking "to determine whether Wall and Steed have conspired to try to defraud the" UEP.

I'm not a lawyer, so when I read this motion, it's not clear whether the attorney general just wants to help defend a lawsuit that could be harmful to a charitable trust, if it thinks a crime was committed, or both.

Wall's attorneys had no comment on Friday afternoon. The assistant attorney general who filed the motion did not immediately call me back.

Lawyers for Wall have previously argued in motions and in court that there is nothing improper about the agreement, that such agreements are not unusual and that attorneys for the UEP were made aware of the agreement as far back as 2011 and they didn't inquire about it until recently.


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