Utah Supreme Court hears Warren Jeffs appeal

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Defense attorneys for the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, stood before the Utah Supreme Court Tuesday. They hoped the justices would reverse Jeffs' 2007 conviction for his role as an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old follower.

The defense argued the state charged Warren Jeffs with the wrong crime. Rather than charge him with performing an illegal marriage, it charged him with being an accomplice to the rape of Elissa Wall.

He arranged this marriage, this illegal marriage for a 14-year-old girl who begged him not to make her do it. If that's not rape, I don't know what is.

–Assistant Attorney General Laura Dupaix

Defense attorneys claimed the law required more than arranging a marriage to qualify as "rape."

Elissa Wall and her now husband sat in court and listened as defense attorney Wally Bugden told the justices Jeffs could not be guilty of rape because he didn't fit the definition of a rapist -- he didn't physically commit rape.

He said Jeffs' role was more of an ecclesiastical leader. He counseled a married couple that was going through a hard time to "try and work the marriage out."

Instead, Bugden claimed the state had other motives when it charged Jeffs as an accomplice to rape.

Bugden said, "This is an unpopular religion, and the state decided to find a way to bring down this unpopular religious figure."

Assistant Attorney General Laura Dupaix said Jeffs arranged the marriage of 14-year-old Wall to her adult cousin Allen Steed and ignored her protests to physical intimacy and the marriage itself.

Dupaix argued Jeffs was much more than a spiritual adviser; he controlled his followers' lives completely. She said he may not have personally raped Wall, but he essentially ordered Allen Steed to.

Dupaix said, "He did much more than perform an illegal marriage. He placed this child in to a situation where she could not refuse to have sex."

The justices are currently deliberating. They could uphold the conviction, reverse it, or order a new trial.

Jeffs is currently serving two consecutive prison terms of 5 years to life.


Story compiled with contributions from Jennifer Stagg and Marc Giauque.

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