Polygamous sect leader’s trial begins in rape case

first_imgBy Jennifer Dobner THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ST. GEORGE, Utah – The leader of a polygamous sect insisted that a 14-year-old girl surrender her “mind, body and soul” to an older cousin, despite her objections to being married, a prosecutor said Thursday. Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with rape by accomplice in the case. As his trial opened, prosecutors said he told the girl she risked losing salvation if she refused to enter a religious union with her 19-year-old cousin. The girl first had sex with her cousin months after their ceremonial marriage in a Nevada motel, Washington County prosecutor Brock Belnap said. When she later complained to Jeffs, he replied: “`Repent. Go home and give yourself mind, body and soul to your husband.’ And she did,” Belnap said. The jury will see pictures of the girl having her wedding dress sewn, Belnap said. “She’ll be smiling, but you’ll understand that pictures don’t necessarily say what was going on in her heart.” Jeffs, 51, was a fugitive for nearly two years and was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list when he was arrested during a traffic stop outside Las Vegas in August 2006. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Jeffs has led the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints church since 2002. Followers see him as a prophet who communicates with God and holds dominion over their salvation; ex-church members say he reigns with an iron fist, demanding perfect obedience from followers. Defense attorney Tara Isaacson said the alleged victim’s cousin will testify that no rape occurred. She said other couples belonging to Jeffs’ church will talk about how he counsels them about marriage. During a 1999 sermon, Isaacson said, Jeffs told his followers that a “man should only have marital relations with a wife if she invites it.” The girl may not have liked being married to her cousin, Isaacson said, but “being unhappy is different from being raped.” Jeffs is not charged with being a polygamist, and the marriage between the cousins was monogamous. Still, polygamy casts a long shadow over the case. Polygamy advocates have long contended that the freedom to practice plural marriage as part of their religion is a civil rights matter. Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints church members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. The practice is banned in the Utah Constitution and is considered a felony offense. The Mormon church disavowed polygamy in 1890. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img