Polygamist’s Rape Convictions Overturned By Utah Court

Today, the Utah Supreme Court threw out the rape convictions of the infamous Mormon sect leader Warren Jeffs, claiming that the instructions given to the jury during his trial were faulty.  Because there is an outstanding warrant for Jeffs’ arrest in Texas, where he is suspected of fathering a child with an underage girl, he will continue to be held in Utah.

Jeffs, the former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, one of the United States’ most prominent practitioners of polygamy, first gained notoriety when he was arrested in August 2006.  In addition to many charges of sexual assault in various states, Jeffs was tried in Utah for being the accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl.  He was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to two consecutive sentences of five years to life, which he has been serving ever since.  The convictions were overturned earlier today, when the state Supreme Court ruled that an earlier judge had erred by failing to “tell the jury that Jeffs could not be found guilty unless he specifically encouraged the girl’s husband to commit rape.”

The victim, Elissa Wall, claimed that Jeffs forced her to marry her first cousin, Allen Steed, when she was fourteen, knowing that nonconsensual sex would most likely take place.  The prosecution said that Jeffs told Wall to be an obedient and submissive wife, despite pleas for divorce.  Jeffs’ lawyers countered by saying that although Jeffs encouraged the marriage, he never intended for Steed to rape Wall.

Obviously, it’s hard enough to convict someone of rape in this country, not to mention being an accomplice to rape.  The Utah attorney general noted that it would be extremely difficult to retry Jeffs on the basis of this theory.  And although I am, of course, incapable of denying the importance of equal application of the law, the fact is, it looks like Jeffs may never serve hard time for a series of potentially egregious crimes. 

Religious leaders have a special kind of responsibility, and it’s one that our legal system has trouble navigating.  Jeffs, as the “prophet” of his community, arranged many of the marriages, and thus bears responsibility for coercing a girl into marriage against her will.  It’s true that he didn’t actually rape her – and certainly, Steed shouldn’t be off the hook, although the rape charges filed against him the day after Jeffs’ conviction have languished since 2007.  But Jeffs, as the spiritual leader who both encouraged the marriage and then counseled Wall to give herself “mind, body and soul” to her husband, is not innocent. 

Such fundamental abuses of power show the need for better governmental interaction with closed religious communities, and, just as importantly, the recognition that rapists and rape culture come in many different forms.  Jeffs’ reputation as a polygamist, as well as his other sexual assault charges, doubtless influenced his conviction in Utah.  But that does not change the fact that it is absolutely possible to be an accomplice to rape – and that although such a person should not be conflated with the rapist, that doesn’t mean they should escape punishment entirely.

Photo from Flickr.


Weedy J Tuhtanjoseph

well, JEFFS will have lots of opportunity to experience rape now that he is not in charge. Religious beliefs are not a basis for breaking the common law- separation of Church and State, State has dominion over non-spiritual aspects.

Ernest R.
Ernest R6 years ago

@ Gina H---He did in fact sodomize young boys.

Randall S.
Randy Stein6 years ago

Wonder how the Utah "Suprme?" Court would have ruled if, all other things being equal, if it had been WANDA Jeffs, a woman???

Nancy V.

OVERTURNED BY THE UTAH COURT??? Probably another bunch of old men who AREN'T men enough to handle 'real women'............SICK, SICK, SICK!! Good Lord, most 12 Yr. olds don't even have breasts......just buds.........and when they are old enough to 'know better' (the little girls) they're so afriad or brainwashed that they are afraid to escape. Or else, there just glad they djon't have the old bastards in their beds every night fumbling around....AND, you know what else those creeps do??? They ship the teenage boys out on their own cause they're too much competition........Make God take care of these mosnters........or someone draw and quarter them...........

Shirley B.

I sure do agree with Monique. he needs to be shot////////// bUt really slow. make it hurt for a long time like that little 12 year old girl got hurt

Shirley B.

This man is nuts, I feel like he is just a horney old man who wants young girls. and I feel God will deal with him.his day is comeing and I hope he burns for ever

bob m.
bob m7 years ago

And then there are the boys born into this "community".God help them.

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y7 years ago

And these are the carpetbaggers who wired tons of cash into California in order to fund Prop. 8 and harass the gay community which was minding its own business, paying its taxes and being good citizens?

Our stats here in CA show that a substantial majority of child molesters are straight - i.e., man on girl. So how in the heck do the Mormons get off posing as holier than thou??

They get off all right, with multiple underage concubines. And their Supreme Court just gives 'em a wink and a nod because that's what they did in the good ol' days.

The Feds ought to step in and declare the entire state of Utah unconstitutional.

Maybe Eric Erickson, the RedState blogger, instead of calling justice Souter a 'g-fing' child molester, should take a good hard look at where Mitt Romney came from.

nita D.
Past Member 7 years ago

This is ridiculous. This is not about religious freedom, it's about rapists. Really bad call Utah court system.

Walter G.
Walter G7 years ago

You can't expect a culture upholding practices such as some sectors of the Mormons to populate a court-room and jury box and vote differently. Change of venue to another state, like Vermont was sorely needed.