Even jailed, accused of rape and incest, facing a raft of civil lawsuits and another criminal trial in Arizona, polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs' presence looms large in this remote, hauntingly beautiful stretch of Utah desert.
He arrived at court Thursday morning in a county helicopter, wearing a bullet proof vest over his well-tailored black suit and silver tie. Outside the courthouse, heavily-armed members of the Washington County Sheriff's Department took up surveillance posts throughout the neighborhood - on street corners, high up on bluffs overlooking the city and barely disguised inside unmarked white pickup trucks in nearby parking lots.
But as opening arguments began in a trial in which Jeffs is accused of coercing a 14 year-old girl into having sex with her 19-year first cousin, it became apparent that the biggest threat to the self-proclaimed prophet of the 10,000 strong Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints may be a shy, soft-spoken, young woman with purple nail polish and silver hoop earrings.
The prosecution's star witness, known in court papers as Jane Doe IV, testified only briefly Thursday, but opening arguments provided a preview of her story. The sect's longtime practice of arranged marriages between fertile young teenage girls and older men came to a head in 2001 when the woman, now 21, was allegedly instructed to wed her first cousin.
Jeffs' teachings glorify procreation as a gift to God, and the women in the sect are taught to serve God by bearing children, as many as one a year. He is charged with two counts of rape by accomplice, for allegedly coercing the girl into unwanted sexual encounters with the cousin, under the threat of losing her opportunity for salvation in the afterlife.
"Please Don't Make Me Do This"
When she learned of the marriage plan, Doe went straight to Jeffs and begged him to reconsider, saying that if she had to be married off so young, could it "at least [be] someone else,'' Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap told a courtroom packed evenly with reporters and devout followers of Jeffs.
"She did not want to be in the same room" with her older cousin, Belnap told jurors. "She did not want to hold his hand."
When Jeffs allegedly urged her to follow his directive, she told him "I feel like I'm too young,'' Belnap said, adding that Jeffs replied that "the Lord wants you to go through with this."
Belnap said the girl fled the room crying and demanded a meeting with Jeffs' father, Rulon Jeffs, who then led the sect but had fallen ill in his old age. Appealing to the elderly church leader, Belnap said she got on her knees and begged him "please don't make me do this. This is my first cousin'' and "my heart is telling me this is wrong for me."
But the marriage went forward as planned.
The prosecutor told of the young girl putting pajamas on over her clothing and pretending to be asleep while her new husband showered before entering the couple's marriage bed - a queen sized mattress in her family home with a baby-blue comforter that the girl's own parents had decorated with a heart design and left a plate of cookies on to "cheer her up" in her despair.
"As she cried and as she said 'please don't,' her new husband deflowered her, Belnap told jurors.
Utah's Age of Consent is 14