ST. GEORGE Washington County prosecutors argue that an FLDS man charged with raping his young bride can get a fair trial in the same county that found polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs, who performed the couple's marriage, guilty of rape as an accomplice.
Allen Glade Steed was charged with first-degree felony rape the day after he testified on behalf of Jeffs, who was sentenced Nov. 20 to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison at the Utah State Prison.
Jeffs, 52, was until his resignation, the leader of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, which practices polygamy and placement marriage. It was an arranged marriage that brought Steed, then 19, and his cousin, then 14-year-old Elissa Wall, together in a marriage that proved to be an unhappy one for both, according to testimony offered at Jeffs' trial.
Steed's attorneys, Jim Bradshaw and Mark Moffat, subsequently asked 5th District Judge G. Rand Beacham to dismiss the case, arguing the state's calculated delay in charging Steed violated his state and federal constitutional rights to a fair trial. A change of venue was also requested.
Wall first filed a civil case seeking unspecified damages against Jeffs and the financial arm of the FLDS Church before speaking with law enforcement. In that civil case, Wall accuses Jeffs and Steed of entering into a conspiracy and acting in concert to commit battery and sexual abuse against her.
A confidentiality and cooperation agreement, signed in November 2006 by Wall and Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap, protected Wall's identity and preserved her willingness to testify against Jeffs until charges were filed against him in April 2006.
Media coverage of Jeffs' trial was unprecedented, attracting dozens of reporters from news outlets around the nation and Canada, including Court TV and CNN. Security also was heightened around the courthouse and in the courtroom.
In their motion for a change of venue, Steed's attorneys argue that Washington County residents already have a preconceived notion of their client's guilt because of the Jeffs trial. Testimony about the marriage and relationship between Steed and Wall was the focus of the state's case.
But prosecutors say the media exposure crossed not only county lines, but state boundaries and beyond. The extent of the publicity, they argue, effectively makes any venue as good as another when it comes to assuring Steed of his right to a fair and impartial jury.
"The amount of pretrial publicity in the Warren Jeffs case is obviously unusual; however, publicity about Warren Jeffs does not equate to publicity about Allen Steed. This defendant simply does not possess the same notoriety or attract the same media interest as Warren Jeffs," according to the prosecution's memorandum.Bradshaw said he would file a reply to the state's response and looks forward to arguing the motions. A hearing is scheduled Dec. 20 in 5th District Court.