On Sunday, the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America published a series of statements made in 2006 and 2009 by now-Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticizing the prosecutions of Utah polygamist Warren Jeffs.
Here’s what Carlson said about Jeffs and his criminal cases, the dates he made the comments and the facts.
• Sept. 6, 2006: “He’s not accused of touching anybody; he is accused of facilitating a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 27-year-old man. That’s the accusation. That’s what they’re calling felony rape. [cross-talk] That’s bulls---. I’m sorry. Now this guy may be [cross-talk], may be a child rapist. I’m just telling you that arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old is not the same as pulling a stranger off the street and raping her.”
Carlson is referring to the charges filed against Jeffs five months earlier in state court in St. George. He was charged with two first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice. The victim was actually a 14-year-old girl, who has since identified herself as Elissa Wall. The groom was her 19-year-old cousin.
Carlson is correct that Jeffs was accused only of facilitating the union. While Jeffs was suspected of his own plural marriages to underage girls by this date, there were no such criminal charges against him.
As for Wall’s marriage, prosecutors in their charging documents alleged Wall objected to the marriage, Jeffs knew that and pushed for the marriage anyway. Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, performed the ceremony and later advised Wall to be obedient to her husband. A jury convicted Jeffs of both counts about a year after Carlson’s comments.
While most cheered the prosecution, there were some lawyers and observers who wondered about the case. Daniel Medwed, now a professor of criminal law at Northeastern University, said the rape as an accomplice charge was typically reserved for suspects more directly involved in a crime, such as leading someone into a room where a rapist is waiting.
Then-Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman did not approve of the criminal charges either. In a column written as Jeffs was on trial, she described Jeffs as committing moral trespasses as a religious leader but said the criminal charges were excessive.
“For that matter, how can you convict a man as an accessory to rape when the alleged rapist himself — the husband — hasn’t been charged?” Goodman wrote.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap, who prosecuted the case, explained Monday that if anyone — Wall, her mother, the groom — had objected to the marriage, Jeffs would have retaliated. Jeffs’ tactics over the years included evicting dissenters from the sect, taking their homes and separating them from their families.
“He used his power and authority over [Wall] and her family to compel her to marry against her wishes,” Belnap said.
“Warren was the only person with power in the whole scenario,” Belnap added. “He micromanaged everybody’s lives.”
The Utah Supreme Court later overturned the conviction, saying the jury should have focused more on whether Jeffs directly caused the rape. There also were questions of whether witnesses fabricated and backdated medical reports. The Washington County Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges.
• Aug. 27, 2009: “He’s in prison because he’s weird and unpopular and he has a different lifestyle that other people find creepy.
“He's like got some weird religious cult where he thinks it's OK to, you know, marry underaged girls, but he didn't do it. Why wouldn't the guy who actually did it, who had sex with an underaged girl, he should be the one who's doing life.”
Jeffs’ conviction in Utah had not yet been thrown out at the time of these comments.