FLDS member pleads guilty in sex case
St. George • For former teenage bride Elissa Wall, Friday marked "the end of a long and difficult journey."
About three years ago, polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs was convicted of rape as an accomplice for presiding over then-14-year-old Wall's 2001 marriage to her 19-year-old cousin. On Friday, her former husband, Allen Steed, agreed to a plea deal that ended a felony rape case against him.
"Allen was a product of his environment," said Wall, now 24 and a mother herself. "I hope the chain of systematic abuse can end and many can be spared."
Steed, 29, pleaded guilty to solemnization of a prohibited marriage and pleaded no contest to unlawful sexual activity with a minor, both third-degree felonies.
Fifth District Judge G. Rand Beacham sentenced Steed to 30 days in jail beginning Monday for the first charge and three years of probation on the sexual activity charge, which will be stricken from his record if he successfully completes his probation.
Steed did not speak about the plea, but outside the St. George courthouse, his attorney, Jim Bradshaw, said he believed the resolution is fair.
"There comes a point in time when it is in the best interest of all parties involved to bring to resolution," he said.
Wall grew up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, one of 22 children her father had with three wives, she wrote in her 2008 book, Stolen Innocence. When her parents' union deteriorated, her mother was "reassigned" in 1999 to Fred Jessop, the sect's bishop. Wall was stunned and objected when Jessop told her she was to be married.
Wall wrote that she was miserable in the relationship, abused and raped by Steed. The marriage ended after she met her now-husband, Lamont Barlow, in 2003, and had an affair with him.
Prosecutors filed charges against Jeffs three years later. During Jeffs' 2007 trial, Steed testified that Wall initiated the sexual contact, and their subsequent encounters were consensual. He was charged with rape the day after Jeffs was found guilty.
Cases of solemnization of a prohibited marriage are rare, said Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap. "This is the first time we've ever prosecuted it," he said. Adopted in 2001, the charge generally applies to people who perform illegal marriages of minors. Because Steed participated in the crime, he can also be charged, Belnap said.
Belnap said the plea agreement with Steed was the "right thing to do," and exhibits a fair balance between "mercy and justice." The plea, he said, recognizes the control Jeffs had over Steed. "Sometimes Justice has to remove her blindfold to distinguish between the unfortunate and the vicious," he said, repeating a favorite quote.
Jeffs' conviction, meanwhile, was overturned in July. The Utah Supreme Court ruled the jury should have been instructed that Jeffs knew when he performed the marriage that a rape would happen and told to focus on his role as a religious leader. Jeffs, 55, has been extradited to Texas, where he is awaiting trial on bigamy and sexual assault charges. Belnap said he wants to see how those charges play out before deciding whether to retry Jeffs.
Walls' civil suit against Jeffs, the FLDS church and the sect's communal land trust is ongoing.
"The best decision has been made," Wall said. "I can walk away now, but with a lifelong burden of scars."