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The trial was set in St. George, about 40 miles (65 km) from the twin towns, where many of the 126,000 residents are descended from early Mormon settlers: this was Brigham Young's winter home. The once homogenous redoubt, which welcomes travelers at the Seven Wives Inn, is now a magnet for developers and retirees. The second fastest-growing urban area in the country, it has seen home prices triple in the past five years. Its golf courses number 10, and Starbucks has arrived. Polygamy is tolerated by some residents, ignored by others. Locals say if you want a house built cheap, hire a polygamist, whose use of child labor and indifference to worker's comp laws may help him underbid everyone else. Residents express some resentment about welfare abuse; many plural wives qualify for food stamps and public assistance because they are legally single mothers. It took several days of questioning to find an impartial jury, seven women and five men evenly divided between newcomers to town and old-timers.
Doe, now 21, recounted the tale of her life as a frightened teenager at a loss for how to escape. She had never even been kissed when she was told she was to marry her cousin. Horrified, she went to Rulon Jeffs and pleaded to be allowed to wait a few years or be given to a different man. Though "Uncle Rulon" seemed sympathetic, it was Warren Jeffs, she says, who informed her that "your heart is in the wrong place. This is what the prophet wants you to do." Her sisters, including one who was among Rulon's wives, also opposed the marriage but felt powerless to stop it for fear of being banished.
And so they all stayed up late, frantically stitching a wedding dress. One sister testified that Doe was sobbing so heavily, it was hard to fit the lace on the bodice. "I felt like I was getting ready for death," Doe said. She said she hung her head and cried during the ceremony when Jeffs told her to say "I do," and she had to be told to kiss her new husband. Jeffs then instructed the couple to "go forth and multiply and replenish the earth with good priesthood children," she testified. She got home to find a new queen-size bed in her room, decorated by her family with chocolates and cookies arranged in the shape of a heart.
She says Jeffs rebuked her when she later pleaded to be released from the marriage. "I told him I was sorry I had failed so severely ... He told me that I needed to repent, that I was not living up to my vows, I was not being obedient, I was not being submissive, and that was what my problem was," she said. She stayed married for more than three years--ultimately sleeping in a truck to avoid her husband--before she left to marry another man, whose child she was already carrying.
When it was the defense's turn to cross-examine, attorney Tara Isaacson probed for holes in the story. Was she motivated by the fact that she was looking for a settlement in a civil suit against Jeffs? Didn't she tell police that she partially blamed her mother for her marriage? Why did she never tell anyone she was being raped? Why is she smiling in her honeymoon pictures? Didn't she agree to have sex with her husband to get things she wanted, like money, visits to her family, other trips?
Doe explained about her confusion, embarrassment, her effort to hide what she was feeling. But the heart of the defense was whether Jeffs could have actually known that sex between them was nonconsensual. "What did Warren Jeffs have to do with what was going on in her bedroom?" Isaacson asked in her opening statement. "Did he even know she was being forced to have sex against her will?" The age of consent in Utah was 14, the lowest in the country. You may think that's too young, Isaacson said to the jury, but that doesn't make it illegal. Isaacson called as witnesses men and women who testified that while marriages might be arranged, no one forced women to do anything. Joanna Keate, 25, told the jury "Uncle Warren" had counseled her and her husband to share interests and "hold hands" as a first step. Jeffs instructed couples that a man should have sex with his wife only if she invites it, the defense argued, so how can Jeffs be accused of being an accomplice to rape? "Pressure to marry," Isaacson argued, "is different from pressure to submit to rape."
Someone who holds down a woman while another man assaults her could be charged as an accomplice. But in this case, the state has to prove that Jeffs coerced the victim into having sex without her consent. "It's basically an ill-fitting suit for the facts of the case," argues Daniel Medwed, a professor of criminal law at the University of Utah College of Law. "It can be draped over the facts, but it doesn't fit snugly. There's wiggle room for the defense."
Some St. George residents following the case, while having no use for Jeffs, see a complicated principle hanging in the balance. "I'm not saying polygamists are right or wrong, but what they are doing is part of their culture, their religion," argues Randy Shaw, owner of the Little Professor bookstore in town. "I don't think a 14-year-old should be married to her cousin, but you have to look at their culture and the fact that we have allowed it to go on for hundreds of years. With this trial, we are mixing government with religion. My question is, Why all of a sudden now? It's been going on forever here."
Whatever the outcome in this case, Jeffs faces multiple indictments in Arizona and possible federal charges for unlawful flight. But he has been planning for the next stage of his ministry for some time now. Already FLDS true believers have been relocating to other retreats, including a huge tract in Eldorado, Texas, where they have erected a large temple, far from any outside interference.