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Jeffs' attorneys argue sect leader faced wrong charge

Published November 3, 2009 5:06 pm

Utah Supreme Court » Lawyers seek to overturn Jeffs' conviction as accomplice to rape.
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A lawyer for Warren S. Jeffs on Tuesday told the Utah Supreme Court that prosecutors misapplied the law when they charged the polygamous leader with rape as an accomplice for his role in the marriage of a 14-year-old girl.

Jeffs' attorney, Walter Bugden Jr., said the state could have charged Jeffs with performing an illegal marriage, but instead decided to charge an unpopular religious figure with a serious crime that didn't fit the facts of the case.

For Jeffs to be guilty, Bugden said, he would have had to intended that non-consensual sex take place, and he did not. If there was non-consensual sex, the groom was responsible, he said.

But Assistant Attorney General Laura Dupaix said Jeffs had total control over Elissa Wall and forced her to get married to her 19-year-old cousin, even though the ninth-grader begged him to stop the marriage. In the ceremony, Jeffs told the couple to go forth and multiply, Dupaix said.

Later, when Wall went to Jeffs for counseling and asked to be let out of the marriage, his response was for her to repent and "submit mind, body and soul" to her husband, she said.

"Under Utah law, that makes Warren Jeffs an accomplice to rape," Dupaix said.

Lawyers for Jeffs are seeking to reverse the convictions or get a new trial. In an appeal, they allege errors involving an unconstitutionally vague definition of enticement in Utah's rape statute; inadequate and improper jury instructions; and the consecutive, rather than concurrent, sentences.

In addition, they claim a mistake was made when a juror was substituted after about 13 hours into deliberations at a September 2007 trial. The change was made after a juror sent a note to 5th District Judge James L. Shumate that another juror revealed she had been a rape victim, information that was not shared during jury selection.

The Supreme Court justices took Tuesday's arguments under consideration.

The FLDS has about 6,000 members in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Other sect members are in Texas, Colorado, Nevada, South Dakota and British Columbia.

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The case against Warren S. Jeffs

The leader of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was convicted of two counts of rape as an accomplice for performing a wedding ceremony between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He was sentenced in November 2007 and is serving two consecutive terms of five years to life.