23 Sep 2007

Jeffs' role: Coercion, devotion?

Salt Lake tribune - September 22, 207

Prosecution and defense close with powerful but dueling presentations of the case

Brooke Adams

ST. GEORGE - It is now up to a jury to mull over who used power, control and manipulation - Warren Jeffs, Allen Steed or Elissa Wall - in a case that could put Jeffs, a polygamous sect leader, behind bars for life.
The defense view: A "laser beam of guilt" has been focused unfairly on Jeffs because he is the leader of a religion the state doesn't like.
The prosecution view: The only reason Wall entered a marriage at age 14 and then had sex with her cousin was because Jeffs told her to do so.
After attorneys gave closing arguments, the jury deliberated for about two hours Friday. They asked one undisclosed question before recessing until Monday.
Four women who had been serving as alternates were dismissed; the jury now consists of five men and three women.
After jurors left the courtroom, 5th District Judge James L. Shumate praised the attorneys, telling the audience: "You've seen the art of advocacy at its highest state. You have seen excellent, excellent lawyering."
Jeffs, 51, is charged in connection with the 2001 marriage he conducted between Wall, then 14, and Allen Steed, her 19-year-old cousin. Wall on Friday approved the media's use of her name at the time of the marriage.
Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, faces five years to life in prison if found guilty.
In more than three hours of pointed and personal closing arguments, the prosecution and defense gave jurors dueling portrayals of both Jeffs' power and the relationship between Wall and Steed.
Prosecutors said Wall was a naive teen who had been taught all her life to view "boys as snakes" and to be submissive to priesthood authority. The defense said she was a strong-willed girl with a distorted view of her arranged marriage, Jeffs' teachings and his actions.
Jurors will have to weigh the credibility of Wall, 21, and Steed, 26. Each cried while giving vastly different - and sometimes shifting - accounts of their marriage, their first sexual encounter and Jeffs' advice about their troubled relationship.

'Please don't make me'
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap told jurors that Wall's actions and words clearly said she did not want to marry or have sex with Steed.
She balked at her wedding, saying "OK, I do" only when prompted. She told him, "Please don't make me" nearly three weeks later when she alleges he raped her.
"She didn't want to kiss him, she didn't want [to] touch him, let alone have sexual intercourse with him," Belnap said.
And at every step - before the marriage, during it and later when Wall sought his counsel - Jeffs ignored her protests, Belnap said.
Jeffs was her former teacher, principal, a first counselor in the FLDS faith and "mouthpiece" for his father, then-prophet Rulon T. Jeffs. He held authority that Wall was powerless to overcome, Belnap argued. And he used that power to deliver one message to young girls like Wall: They were to obey, be submissive, or risk the eternal consequences.
"If Warren Jeffs had listened to Elissa when she said, 'My heart is telling me no,' would Allen Steed ever have had sexual intercourse with Elissa Wall?" he asked jurors.
"When there is no consent, there is rape," he said. "No consent, sexual intercourse, rape."

'This is not Ms. Submissive'
But defense attorney Walter F. Bugden argued that what's really on trial is an unpopular religion "dressed up as a crime called rape."
He reminded jurors that Steed, the supposed rapist, had never been interviewed by police or charged with a crime.
The state - which he argued had "gone crazy for political reasons" - could have charged Jeffs with solemnizing an unlawful marriage but instead "dropped a nuclear bomb on Hildale and Colorado City and charged Mr. Jeffs with rape," he said.
The case was built solely on testimony from Wall and her two sisters, who distorted FLDS teachings about ''persuasion through love'' and translated a "terrible marriage'' into a rape, Bugden said.
Of all the people who had influence on Wall - her mother, stepfather and sisters - only Jeffs was being held out for blame, he said.
"My client should be be judged by the same standard as everyone else in that family," Bugden said. "And no one else in that family . . . thought rape was going to take place."
And there was no rape, he argued, as he reminded them Wall had in the past described her former husband as a victim and told police she did not want him "pursued."
Steed was an unsophisticated, awkward man and Wall dominated the marriage, Bugden said. When sex happened, it was because she initiated it, he said.
''What happened in the bedroom wasn't different from what happened in other aspects of their lives," he said. "She did exactly what she wanted to do," from dropping out of school to working two jobs and, finally, having an affair.
"This is not Ms. Submissive, this is not Ms. Robot, this girl," he said. "She was not stripped of her independence."
She had family in Salt Lake City, Canada and, later, Oregon, he said, arguing she had a way out.
"Elissa told no one, absolutely no one, she was being raped," he said, not even her "fiercely loyal sisters."
Wall's story of her marriage began to evolve, he said, when she met with a Baltimore civil attorney famed for winning large settlements from churches. She filed a lawsuit against Jeffs before meeting with police, he noted.
"Money changes everything," Bugden said.
Focus on Jeffs
But Belnap, who addressed the jurors before and after the defense, said the case "is about Mr. Jeffs and his actions."
While others around Wall may share responsibility, he added, "other people's culpability doesn't excuse yours."
Defense witnesses described the FLDS culture as forbidding even flirting before marriage, he pointed out. Steed could not have gotten close to Wall without Jeffs performing their marriage, he said.
"The person who put Allen Steed in that position was Mr. Jeffs," he said.
Belnap said Steed claimed he had been advised to go slow in wooing his wife but admitted to a "shrinking" time frame for their first sexual encounter. If Wall was truly the strong personality that Bugden claimed, Belnap added, why didn't she leave or tell anyone she was being raped? At 14, she didn't even know what the word meant, he said.
He also asked jurors: "Do you really think Elissa Wall was initiating sex with her 19-year-old husband?"
Remember, he said, that the FLDS culture teaches girls to treat boys "like snakes."
Jeffs manipulated Wall at every point, from the arranged marriage to his directive that she work it out with her husband, Belnap said.
"That's wrongful," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's motivated by love, it doesn't matter what it's motivated by."

http://www.sltrib.com/ci_6969027

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