Key Witness Testifies in Polygamist Warren Jeffs Hearing


Nov. 21, 2006 — -- Fifty-year-old fundamentalist church leader and polygamist Warren Jeffs reportedly showed little emotion during the preliminary hearing yesterday as prosecutors accused him of being an accomplice in two counts of rape.

Jeffs has an estimated 10 thousand followers, who consider him a prophet. Police SWAT teams and snipers were perched above the courthouse, and a mobile command post was set up across the street as Jeffs entered the courtroom in St. George, Utah.

Prosecutors said Jeffs enticed a 14-year-old girl into marriage with her 19-year-old cousin.

The now 20-year-old alleged rape victim, whose identity is being withheld, repeatedly broke down on the stand as she testified in court. She is pregnant by her second husband.

She testified that her wedding night was the worst night in her life. "He was a bully to me. He was my first cousin. I didn't respect him."

The victim told the court she was in the ninth grade at the time she was forced to marry, and said Jeffs told her she would not have a place in heaven unless she obeyed. "I felt completely defeated and trapped," she testified.

She also testified that she sometimes used sex to curry favors from her husband, such as money and time to see her friends. "I would just try to be a willing, submissive wife so that he would feel good about letting me do these things and have these things".

But under questioning from Jeffs' defense team the woman conceded that Jeffs never directly ordered her to have intercourse with her husband.

After the first day of the preliminary hearing, Jeffs attorney, Wally Burgden told reporters on the courthouse steps, "There was no rape," and he predicted a jury would see the case as "religious persecution."

Judge James Shumate will resume the hearing December 14 and decide if there is probable cause for a trial.

In his sermons Jeffs has counseled young women to be "submissive and obedient."

He believes in polygamy. The Church of the Latter Day Saints disavowed polygamy in 1890.

In an ABC News "Primetime" investigation, former church member Laurine Jessop says she, too, was forced into marriage by Jeffs. "I was trapped. I felt like I had done my very best in trying to live my religion. I was taught that the only rights a woman has is to be obedient to her husband."

Jeffs has built compounds where his followers live in Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz., and El Dorado, Texas. ABC News was given a bird's-eye view of the El Dorado property from a plane.

From the air you can see a glorious 90-foot temple that also looked a bit like a fortress. Jeffs followers have built a dozen three-story log cabins, cement and water treatment plants, a chicken coop, and a dairy farm. They have little need for anything from the outside world.

Flora Jessup, who also used to be a devotee of Jeffs, told ABC News, "He is considered the prophet and is probably one of the most evil men I have ever known in my life."

When Jeffs was accused of forcing teenage women to marry older men and for being an accomplice to rape, he fled. He was quickly put on the FBI's 10 most wanted list and a $100,00 reward was posted for his capture.

Jeffs alluded the authorities for four months and was finally arrested in August by a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper. After searching his car, police discovered 27 stacks of money, each containing $2,500 along with 14 cell phones and two female wigs.

Former followers said that Jeffs teaches that wives belong to their husbands for eternity. He said that loyal men are permitted to take multiple wives as their reward. Jeffs also teaches that he has the power to reassign wives and children to other men.

Officials estimate that Jeffs himself has more than 50 wives, and the trust his church controls may be worth as much as $100 million.

Lawyers for the 50-year-old religious leader seek to have all charges against him dismissed.

Held in the Purgatory Correctional facility in Utah, Jeffs also faces charges in Arizona.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events