Warren Jeffs' Former Accuser Says Evidence In Polygamy Trial Will 'Shock The World'

Polygamy leader Warren Jeffs' former accuser speaks out

July 27, 2011, 7:43 AM

July 27, 2011 -- A Texas judge will hear opening motions today in the trial of Warren Jeffs, just as the woman who was the first to bring charges against the polygamist sect leader comes forward to say this trial will open the world's eyes to the insular, polygamist world of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), the offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that Jeffs leads.

"It will shock the world, the evidence that comes out," Elissa Wall said today on "Good Morning America."

Wall was one of the first of Jeffs' followers to pursue criminal charges against him when, as a 14-year-old, she said Jeffs, 55, forced her to marry her 19-year-old first cousin, Allen Steed.

"Warren Jeffs was a principal in my school and he also cultured a lot of the views of the religion I grew up in," Wall, now in her early 20s and married with two children, said today on "GMA."

After leaving the FLDS, she pursued criminal charges against Steed for sexual assault and against Jeffs for being an accomplice to rape. Jeffs was convicted on those charges in 2007 but the conviction was overturned by an appellate court on a technicality.

"I was able to get out but it was a struggle," Wall said of her experience with Jeffs, a story chronicled in her book, "Stolen Innocence." "Many people don't understand the people within these closed communities can't just walk out of them. It takes a choice."

In the current trial, Jeffs faces charges he sexually assaulted two underage girls, ages 17 and 12, whom he later married. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. He faces a separate trial on a bigamy charge in October.

"This is an opportunity for people to see firsthand the actual crimes that Warren Jeffs himself has committed," Wall said on "GMA."

The selection of the 10 men and two women who will decide Jeffs' fate came late Tuesday night after a difficult jury selection process that showed the extent to which Jeffs has gained worldwide notoriety for having a reported 70 wives and leading the sect's 10,000 members who live along the border of Utah and Arizona.

A total of 207 people appeared for the second day of jury selection in the San Angelo, Texas, courtroom where the trial is being held, but State District Judge Barbara Walther excused 120 of those potential jurors after most said they could not presume Jeffs' innocence.

Special emphasis on jury selection is common in Texas where state law allows juries to set the penalty for those they convict.

While the jury is set, opening statements in the trial will not move forward without at least one more hearing, on a motion by the defense to suppress evidence. Jeffs' attorneys say they also plan to request a change of venue out of San Angelo, but have yet to file a motion to do so.

Wall told "GMA" she believes the trial, no matter where it is held, will show the jury the controlling behavior she says Jeffs inflicts on his followers.

"He did display a lot of narcissistic behavior," she said. "He was much like a prince in our community, only he was the mouthpiece of God because God was in our prophets.

"He commanded a lot of respect and we all feared him very much," Wall added.

The charges Jeffs now faces stem from an April 2008 police raid on a compound known as the "Yearning For Zion" ranch outside Eldorado, a town about 45 miles south of San Angelo.

A call to a domestic-abuse hotline spurred the raid which resulted in the removal of more than 400 children from their homes. The call turned out to be a hoax, but the evidence collected led to the current charges against Jeffs and 11 other FLDS men.

Jeffs' Grip on Followers Still Firm

The hoax phone call, and the raid, thrust allegations of widespread child abuse at the polygamous sect into the national spotlight as television cameras captured images of women in 19th-century dresses and hairdos filing out of the compound.

Though Jeffs is facing up to life in prison and being held in a Texas jail, he is believed to still have a firm grip on the sect and the lives of thousands of his followers, including those women.

"They will always continue to believe him until he dies or something else happens," Wall said. "It goes against their religion and their entire faith to denounce him."

Jeffs' followers see him as a prophet who serves as God's spokesman on earth. The sect Jeffs leads broke off from the mainstream Mormon Church 72 years ago.

As prophet, Jeffs paired the community's girls and women with the men he said God told him in revelations were meant to be married. Sect teachings emphasize that young girls and women are to be obedient to their husbands and serve them "mind, body and soul" to achieve salvation in the afterlife.

Two Texas sheriffs confirmed to ABC News that Jeffs spent $23,000 on phone cards in five months, leading to beliefs he is still in complete control of the church. The sheriff officials said they believe Jeffs is "directing" church members over the phone.

Both alleged victims in the case along with 76 other women have been called to testify.

"These people will not testify unless they are apprehended by law enforcement and dragged kicking and screaming into court," Mike Watkiss, a reporter with Arizona news network KTVK, told ABC News.

Local news affiliates report that hundreds of people still live at the Texas ranch and construction crews continue to work on buildings on the $110 million property, including a four-story limestone temple.

"I don't think his incarceration has in anyway diminished his status," Watkiss said. "It has elevated his status because it has made him a martyr for the cause."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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