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Jury finds Jeffs guilty

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 8:38 p.m. MDT

ST. GEORGE — Warren Jeffs was found guilty of two counts of rape as an accomplice today in 5th District Court here.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap called it a "just verdict."
"They applied the law to the facts," he said of the jury, which started deliberations Friday.
Belnap also praised victim Elissa Wall, calling her "a pioneer."
"There always has to be someone willing to go first," he said.
Belnap would not comment further, saying there are more cases pending, as well as Jeffs' upcoming sentencing.
Sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 20, and Jeffs, 51, faces a possible sentence of 5 years to life in prison.
Wall spoke to reporters outside the courthouse after the verdict was handed down.
"When I was young, my mother taught me that evil flourishes when good men do nothing," she said. "This has not been easy for us. The easy thing would have been to do nothing."
Wall said she spoke the truth, and she sent a message of love and support to her mother and sisters within the FLDS Church.
"I have very tender feelings for the FLDS people. There is so much good in them," she said. "I pray they will find the strength to step back and reexamine what they have been told to believe and follow their hearts."
Wall said the trial was not about religion or any vendetta she harbors against Jeffs and the FLDS Church. Wall has filed a multimillion-dollar civil suit against Jeffs over the marriage.
Richard Holm, an ex-FLDS Church member who was ousted by Jeffs, was in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
"If Warren Jeffs spent one day in jail for all the people he's hurt, he'd spend several dozen years," Holm said. "He's got a trail of blood and bones."
Upon hearing the verdict, Elaine Tyler shrieked with joy. She is the director of the HOPE Organization, which helps women and children leaving abusive situations in the polygamous communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
"I am so elated. I am so proud of those girls," Tyler said.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff issued a statement commending prosecutors.
"This verdict is a victory for the many victims who have been hurt by Warren Jeffs and have been too afraid to speak out," Shurtleff said. "Everyone should now know that no one is above the law, religion is not an excuse for abuse and every victim has a right to be heard.
"Let this verdict be a warning to anyone else who believes that forcing young girls to marry older men is acceptable and without consequence. The state of Utah will continue to be vigilant in pursuing anyone who breaks the law, no matter where they live or what they believe. Today's verdict is just the beginning of a long journey to seek justice for all."
In an interview with the Deseret Morning News from his hospital bed, recovering from a motorcycle accident, Shurtleff said he felt the jury during the trial "really got" what Wall had been forced to do.
"We know he's going to spend a significant amount of time in prison," Shurtleff said of Jeffs. "And we can do what we need to as far as ongoing investigations."
The Utah Attorney General's office has been conducting an organized crime probe into Jeffs and the FLDS Church. Shurtleff has been pushing to see evidence the FBI seized from a Cadillac Escalade Jeffs was in when he was arrested outside Las Vegas last year.
FLDS Church faithful left the courthouse without commenting after the verdict was read. Jeffs showed no reaction in court.
Defense attorneys left the courthouse without commenting on the verdict. Defense attorney Wally Bugden did say he planned to appeal the jury's decision.
This morning the jury and attorneys had returned to the courthouse for another day of deliberations. But it was soon announced that the eight-member jury deliberating in Jeffs' case ran into a problem resulting in one female member being dismissed and replaced with one of four alternates.
The dismissal meant jury deliberations started over.
The jury that deliberated the case was comprised of five men and three women. The four alternates were all women.
The alternates sat through all in-court proceedings of the trial. Since deliberations began last Friday, they had been free to return to their normal activities, but they were admonished by the court to refrain from talking about the case and to avoid exposure to news media coverage about it.
Jeffs, 51, was charged with two first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in conducting a 2001 spiritual marriage between an unwilling 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin, which eventually led to sex between the two.
Washington County prosecutors say Wall, now 21 and married to another man, would never have even kissed her cousin, Allen Steed, if Jeffs hadn't ordered her to do so. Under Utah law, a 14-year-old can consent to sexual intercourse. However, such activity is considered rape if the other person is three years or more older and the 14-year-old is enticed or lured into having sex.
Wall testified her stepfather arranged the marriage, that Jeffs would not stop it, and that her mother insisted she go through with it. Three weeks after the wedding ceremony and a short honeymoon, Wall said her new husband forced her to have sex. Wall admitted she never reported a rape or told her mother or sisters she was being raped.
Steed, who is now 26, testified he tried hard to be a good husband, never forced his young wife into sex and sought counsel from Jeffs as his spiritual leader. Steed's version of what happened the first time the couple had sex differed starkly from Wall's testimony, saying Wall initiated sex by rolling up next to him and asking if he loved her.
Bugden also pointed to Jeffs during his closing statement, telling the jury that the case wasn't about sex; it was about Jeffs' religion. He also noted Wall had filed a civil lawsuit against Jeffs and the FLDS Church.


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