A young woman who said that the leader of a polygamous sect coerced her into marrying a cousin when she was 14 testified Thursday that she was raised always to obey if she wanted to preserve her salvation in heaven.
Now 21, she was the first witness in the trial of Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who is charged with rape as an accomplice.
The prosecutor contends Jeffs, 51, knew the girl objected to the 2001 ceremony and subsequent sexual relations but still commanded her to surrender “mind, body and soul” to a 19-year-old man.
“And she did,” Washington County prosecutor Brock Belnap told the jury.
In addition to being a high-ranking church counselor in 2001, Jeffs had served as the girl’s teacher and principal while she attended an FLDS-run school in Salt Lake City, providing children with principles of the faith.
In 2002, Jeffs became church president, or “prophet,” succeeding his father.
“He was always an authority figure in my life,” she said of Jeffs. “The prophet was as God to us. He was God on Earth and his counselors were pretty much the same, so they had jurisdiction over us.”
The Associated Press generally does not name people alleging sexual abuse. The woman will return to the witness stand Friday.
Prosecutor: Jeffs expected obedience
Prosecutors played a tape of a marriage lesson recorded by Jeffs in 1997 to stress the point that obedience by women was expected.
“Give yourself to him, that means full obedience to righteous principles. No halfway, no holding back,” Jeffs said on the tape.
In his opening statement, Belnap told jurors they would see pictures of the girl having her wedding dress sewn.
“She’ll be smiling, but you’ll understand that pictures don’t necessarily say what was going on in her heart.”
The girl first had sex with her cousin months after their ceremonial marriage in a Nevada motel, Belnap said.
Taking her turn with the jury, defense attorney Tara Isaacson said the accuser’s cousin will testify that no rape occurred. She said other couples belonging to Jeffs’ FLDS 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.”
Fugitive for nearly 2 years
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 FLDS 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.
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. FLDS members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.
The practice is banned in the Utah Constitution, though, and it is considered a felony offense. The Mormon church disavowed polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates members found to still be practicing plural marriage.