A judge ordered the leader of a polygamist sect Thursday to stand trial on charges of rape as an accomplice on allegations that he forced a 14-year-old girl to marry and have sex with an older cousin in 2001.
Warren Jeffs, 51, pleaded not guilty Thursday in state court. The leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints could face up to life in prison if convicted.
The woman, now 20, was not in the courtroom to hear Washington County Judge James Shumate’s decision. She testified last month that she felt “completely trapped and defeated” during a ceremony at a Nevada motel — the “darkest time of my entire life.”
The woman, identified as Jane Doe No. 4, left the sect after 3½ years, remarried and had a baby last week.
Jeffs’ defense team contends he is being pursued for his religious beliefs.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Wally Bugden told Shumate he would be making a “factual leap” to find probable cause for a trial.
“Saying I don’t want to get married is not the same as saying I don’t want to have intercourse,” Bugden said.
The FLDS sect traces its roots to early Mormon theology, which promoted plural marriage. The modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavows polygamy and renounced the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s statehood.
Members of the FLDS consider themselves “fundamentalist Mormons” who continue to believe polygamy will bring glory in heaven. They also consider Jeffs a prophet of God with dominion over their salvation.
Many sect members live in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Jeffs also faces felony charges in Arizona, accused there of arranging a marriage between a 16-old-girl and a 28-year-old man, who was already married.
Jeffs, at the time one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives, was arrested Aug. 28 in a traffic stop on Interstate 15 just north of Las Vegas. He is being held without bail in county jail.