Woman Testifies Against Polygamist Jeffs in Court
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It's still not clear whether the state of Utah will put its most famous polygamist on trial. Warren Jeffs leads the largest polygamous religion in the nation. He is charged with two counts of facilitating rape. But a preliminary hearing on the case ended yesterday with no firm conclusion.
NPR's Howard Berkes was in the courtroom in St. George, Utah.
HOWARD BERKES: There were sharpshooters on the red rock cliffs above the courthouse and a fleet of satellite TV trucks choking the parking lot. But the real drama was inside a small courtroom where polygamous prophet Warren Jeffs witnessed the tear-choked testimony of his young accuser.
Unidentified Woman (Accuser, Rape Case): Sorry, this is very hard for me to re-live - this was the darkest time in my entire life.
BERKES: The 20-year-old young woman described uncontrollable sobbing on the eve of her wedding when she was just 14. She shook so hard that night, her mother and sister couldn't fix pins to her wedding dress.
Then and later, after the ceremony and after her 19-year-old first cousin tried to consummate their marriage, she pleaded with Warren Jeffs to free her from the matrimonial bonds he arranged.
Unidentified Woman: I begged him to just please let me out. And he told me that - how sometimes in our lives that we're told to do things that we don't feel like are right. Because the Lord and the prophet tell us to, then they are.
BERKES: She feared for her eternal salvation, the woman said, if she defied her religious leader. And she feared exile from her faith, her family and her community - the 6,000 followers of Warren Jeffs.
The woman revealed her name in court, but she's an alleged victim of rape, so NPR and other news organizations won't name her or her alleged rapist. The marriage Warren Jeffs arranged is not official and recognized by the state. It's what the faithful call a spiritual marriage, and spiritual husbands expect wives to submit. The man Warren Jeffs paired with his accuser, told this ninth-grader he married:
Unidentified Woman: It's time for us to do our responsibility and for you to be the wife. And I was kind of like, OK, I don't know what you mean by that, but… And then he proceeded to undress himself and then me, and I… This whole time I was so scared, I was just kind of (unintelligible) in place, I just said, (unintelligible) please don't do it.
BERKES: To prosecutors, what happen next is rape, and Warren Jeffs' role in facilitating this unwanted sex makes him an accomplice to rape. Jeffs listened to the testimony, stoic throughout.
His defense team sought to discredit his accuser, noting she's filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the polygamist leader. They showed photographs of the young woman and her spiritual husband holding hands and smiling. And they said Jeffs religious counsel - to be fruitful and multiply and to obey husbands - does not amount to rape.
Lead defense lawyer, Wally Bugden, spoke outside the courthouse.
Attorney WALLY BUGDEN (Lead Defense Lawyer of Warren Jeffs): The prosecution of Warren Jeffs is a religious persecution. It is nothing less than the state of Utah condemning a culturally different religion.
BERKES: Bugden suggested that the state is targeting Jeffs' polygamy, even though he's not charged with that crime. The rape case makes no sense, he said, because the man who committed the alleged rape has not been charged. And all Warren Jeffs did was arranged a marriage.
Attorney BUGDEN: That's not the charge. He's charged with rape, with all the emotional connotations of the charge of un-consented sexual intercourse, being an accomplice to that conduct. There was no rape. And my client, as an accomplice, is not guilty of rape.
BERKES: That was the defense team's most powerful bottom line. The accuser had her own - in referring to two younger sisters.
Unidentified Woman: I fear for them everyday. And here is my worst nightmare -my sisters will go through what I went through because they have no choice. And that's why I'm here today, is to change that for them.
BERKES: The two sides ran out of time yesterday, so they'll return to court December 14. That's when Warren Jeffs will likely find out whether his case will go to trial. Until then, he remains jailed without bail, ministering to his polygamous flock with phone calls from behind bars.
Howard Berkes, NPR News, St. George, Utah.
INSKEEP: You can listen to more testimonies from yesterday's hearing by going to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.