ST. GEORGE, Utah – Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs is either a heartless autocrat or benevolent marriage counselor, depending on who you ask.
Those starkly different assessments were offered Thursday in a courtroom where Jeffs was ordered to stand trial on two counts of rape as an accomplice. He is accused of forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry and have sex with an older cousin.
Jeffs, 51, pleaded not guilty to the felony charges that could send him to prison for life. A trial was set for April 23.
Defense attorney Walter F. Bugden argues that Jeffs only presided over the 2001 wedding, urged the unhappy girl to accept her assigned husband and perhaps find love by having children.
Bugden contends that Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is being prosecuted for his peculiar religion, which holds that polygamy will bring men and their wives glory in heaven.
Prosecutors say Jeffs held the hope of salvation over the woman, using his position of trust as a prophet and former religious schoolteacher to arrange a marriage with a 19-year-old cousin she says she always disliked.
"She didn't have a choice," deputy county attorney Ryan Shaum said. "The prophet, God's voice on earth, is telling her what to do."
District Judge James Shumate ruled that Jeffs could be held for trial, citing evidence the girl "expressed her disdain, reluctance, opposition and total dislike of sexual relations" with the cousin.
The woman, now 20, was not in the courtroom. She testified last month that she felt "completely trapped and defeated" during a ceremony at a Nevada motel — the "darkest time of my entire life."
The woman, identified as Jane Doe No. 4, left the sect after 3 1/2 years, remarried and had a baby last week.
Outside court, her attorney, Roger Hoole, said she was pleased with and relieved by the ruling.
The girl and her cousin united in an FLDS religious ceremony but never held a valid marriage license. The cousin has not been charged.
Jeffs was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list when he was arrested Aug. 28 in a traffic stop north of Las Vegas. He is being held without bail.
His 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 as a condition of Utah statehood.
FLDS members consider themselves "fundamentalist Mormons," although the mainstream church disavows any connection. They also consider Jeffs a prophet of God with dominion over their salvation.
The church has 10,000 members mostly living in the border cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
It's unlikely the faithful will hear much about Thursday's court proceedings, said Ross Chatwin, a former FLDS member who was forced out of the church nearly three years ago. Members lead an insular life and are prohibited from watching television, using the Internet or reading newspapers.
"Any faithful followers of Warren will not see any of this media attention," Chatwin said. "They will hear that all went well, the Lord has it in hand ... and Warren is innocent."