ST. GEORGE, Utah – Attorneys for a polygamist leader called one witness and then turned to their closing argument Thursday, claiming Warren Jeffs shouldn't be held criminally liable for the marriage of a teen because he didn't know she was having sex against her will.
"Saying I don't want to get married is not the same as saying I don't want to have intercourse," Wally Bugden said at a crucial hearing to determine whether Jeffs goes to trial on charges of rape as an accomplice.
"She says I can't trust him, I don't feel comfortable, things happen that I don't like," Bugden told a judge. "That's not saying I'm being forced. That doesn't put Mr. Jeffs on notice — ever — that she's being forced to have sex against her will."
Jeffs, 51, is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He is accused of forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin in 2001 and could face up to life in prison if put on trial and convicted.
Prosecutors said Jeffs, who performed the ceremony, is responsible for any trauma because he counseled her to submit to her husband "mind, body and soul."
The girl, now 20, and her cousin were members of Jeffs' church. They were united in an FLDS religious ceremony in a Nevada motel but never held a valid marriage license.
Weeks earlier, Jeffs took the girl into his office and said, "'If you do not do this, your mission will be in jeopardy,"' prosecutor Ryan Shaum said.
"She felt God was punishing her, pushing her into something she didn't want to do," Shaum told 5th District Court Judge James Shumate.
The FLDS sect traces its roots to early Mormon theology, which promoted plural marriage. The modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavows polygamy and renounced the practice in 1890.
The FLDS, however, consider themselves "fundamentalist Mormons" who continue to believe polygamy will bring glory in heaven. They also consider Jeffs a prophet of God with dominion over their salvation.
Shumate heard a full day of testimony Nov. 21, then put the case on hold until Thursday.
Jeff's defense team called just one witness, a sheriff's investigator, who acknowledged that the criminal probe grew out of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by the woman against Jeffs and the church.
Bugden said prosecutors and the woman's civil lawyer consulted each other while drafting news releases. He was attempting to show that their relationship was out of the ordinary.
"Pretty unusual? Never happened in your career?" Bugden asked Shauna Jones.
"Not in my career," Jones replied.
At the helm of the FLDS church since 2002, Jeffs disappeared from public life in 2004 after lawsuits filed against him and his church alleged abuses of some members. Criminal charges in Arizona and Utah followed in 2005 and 2006.
While on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List, Jeffs was arrested Aug. 28 in a traffic stop on Interstate 15 just north of Las Vegas, Nev. He is being held without bail in Washington County's Purgatory Correctional Facility.