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Warren Jeffs Convictions Overturned by Utah Supreme Court

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

On July 28, the Utah Supreme Court reversed two convictions for accomplice to rape for Warren Jeffs, the leader and "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeffs had been convicted in 2007 of using his power over the followers of his religious faith to force a fourteen year-old girl into marriage with her nineteen year-old cousin.

The court found that the instructions given to the jury in Jeff's case were erroneous and that error affected the outcome of the verdict. CNN reports that the victim in the case repeatedly objected to her marriage and did not want to have sexual relations with her husband. Evidence was given at trial that Jeffs counseled her to "submit" to her husband and give herself entirely to him and her marriage. This, said Jeffs, was the only way she could be sure of eternal salvation.

According to CNN, the court wrongly focused on the influence of the relationship between the young victim and Jeffs, and not on that between her and her husband. The law relied on requires the victim to have voiced objections, been under the age of consent and to have a relationship of "special trust" with the perpetrator. According to defense attorneys, that law should have applied to the husband, Allen Steed, not to Jeffs. "The state interprets the term 'actor' to mean the 'defendant,'" the opinion said. "We conclude that the state's interpretation is erroneous." By reaching this conclusion after reviewing the result from the trial, the court found that there was a special kind of error called reversible error. This is an error that occurs at the trial that is of the type that results in an unfair trial.

Defense attorneys had argued that marrying someone, encouraging them to make their marriage work and "be fruitful and multiply ... that is not the same thing as saying to a husband, 'I'm encouraging you to rape your wife,'" said defense attorney Wally Bugden.

But the convictions overturned by the higher court does not mean Warren Jeffs is a free man. The prosecution is considering a re-trial. In addition, any motion for bail while Jeffs awaits retrial may be thwarted by the federal charges of crossing state lines to avoid prosecution that attached when Jeffs crossed state lines in 2006 to avoid capture. Finally, Jeffs may be extradited to Texas to face the serious charges of felony sexual assault of a child. If convicted on the Texas charges, Jeffs could face a maximum penalty of five to 99 years, or life in prison.

Elissa Wall, the victim in this case, has not been cowed by her experiences. She told the Deseret News, "Wrongs have been done and justice has not been served. I want to see justice served. I want to see little girls like myself at 14 years old protected."

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