Leader of polygamist group is found guilty
Warren Jeffs, 51, could get life in prison after a trial that threw a spotlight on a renegade community along the Arizona-Utah line where as many as 10,000 of Jeffs’ followers practice plural marriage and revere him as a mighty prophet with dominion over their salvation. Jeffs stood and, like his 15 followers in the courtroom, wore a stoic look as the verdict was read. “Everyone should now know that no one is above the law, religion is not an excuse for abuse and every victim has a right to be heard,” said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who had endorsed the prosecution in Washington County. Defense attorney Wally Bugden, who told jurors that Jeffs was a victim of religious persecution, declined to comment. Prosecutors said Jeffs forced the girl into marriage and sex against her will. The jury deliberated about 16 hours over three days. On Tuesday morning, the judge replaced a juror with an alternate for undisclosed reasons. While polygamy itself was not on trial – the couple were monogamous – the case focused attention on the practice of polygamy in Utah, where it has generally been tolerated in the half-century since a government raid in 1953 proved a public relations disaster, with children photographed being torn from their mothers’ arms. Jeffs succeeded his father in 2002 as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Former members say he rules with an iron fist, demanding perfect obedience from followers and exercising the right to arrange marriages as well as break them up and assign new spouses. “This trial has not been about religion or vendetta. It was simply about child abuse and preventing abuse,” the young woman, now 21, said, reading a statement after the verdict. “The easy thing would have been to do nothing, but I have followed my heart and spoken the truth,” she said. At the trial, widely different versions of the relationship – and Jeffs’ influence – were presented by the woman and her ex-husband, Allen Steed, 26. At their wedding in 2001 at a Nevada motel, the woman said, she cried in despair when pressed by Jeffs to say “I do” and had to be coaxed to kiss her new husband.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! COURTS: Prophet in Mormon splinter group is convicted of being an accomplice to rape. By Jennifer Dobner THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ST. GEORGE, Utah – The leader of a polygamous Mormon splinter group was convicted Tuesday of being an accomplice to rape for performing a wedding between a 19-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl.