The cousin of a woman who claims the leader of a polygamous sect forced them to marry when she was 14 said Wednesday he never forced himself on the teen bride.
He also claimed he was a patient, loving husband who wanted to make the relationship work — and that she was the one who initiated sex.
The testimony came during the trial of Warren Jeffs, 51, who is president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Prosecutors claim he used his iron-fisted influence to force her into sex and marriage with her cousin in 2001.
At times breaking into tears, the cousin, who was 19 at the time of the marriage, spoke softly as he told jurors how she approached him after he fell asleep in his clothes following a 12-hour day at work. During his testimony, the woman, who is now 21, ran from the courtroom.
“She woke me up and asked me if I cared about her and loved her,” he testified. “I told her that I did. She rolled up close to me and asked me to scratch her back. ... I felt like she was ready to go forward.”
Defense attorney Wally Bugden asked if he had to talk her into sex. “No, sir, never,” he replied.
Under cross-examination, prosecutor Craig Barlow didn’t challenge the man’s account of the couple’s first sexual encounter but instead focused on whether he knew marrying a 14-year-old was illegal.
“I didn’t really put much thought into it,” said the man, indicating he believed it was right under “God’s law.”
Man describes marriage as 'rocky'
The cousin, who is now 26, has not been charged. Before he testified, he was warned that what he said could be used against him, but he shrugged off the warning. “I believe that every story needs two sides for the truth to come out,” he told the court.
The teen bride has testified that her objections to the marriage and her cousin’s subsequent sexual advances were ignored by church leaders. She said Jeffs refused to release her from the marriage.
The man told prosecutors that he doesn’t recall his young wife sobbing through the ceremony or needing to be coaxed to say “I do” or kiss him.
Describing the early times of the marriage as “rocky,” the man said he sought counsel from Jeffs because he wanted to improve the relationship.
Jeffs told him to “pray together. Work together. Play together. Be kind,” the man testified. “He told me that I had to learn how to get her to love me so she would obey because she loved me.”
The young woman left the marriage and the FLDS church in 2004 after becoming pregnant with another man’s child. The Associated Press generally does not name people alleging sexual abuse and also is not naming the cousin to protect her identity.
“It hurt really bad,” her cousin said of the affair, dabbing his eyes with a tissue. “I had a weakness flare up when I had a strong desire to get a gun, feeling robbed ... but no, I knew that was wrong, so I just left it at that.”
If convicted of the charges, Jeffs could spend the rest of his life in prison.