On Tuesday, Warren Jeffs, a leader of a US polygamist sect was found guilty of rape charges. Jeffs ordered a 14-year old girl in his church to get married and have sex with her 19-year-old cousin despite her objections. Jeffs, who faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. He will be sentenced at a later date.
The victim in the case said she felt “compelled to go to the police.” Her decision to come forward divided her family. The defense listed her mother and other relatives as witnesses during the trail. At a press conference, after the verdict was read, the victim said:
“When I was young my mother taught me that evil flourishes when good men do nothing. This has not been easy. The easy thing would have been to do nothing. But I have followed my heart and spoken the truth.”
In a message to her mother she added: “I understand and respect your convictions but I will not give up on you.”
A throng of Jeffs followers were muted following the verdict at the trial, which was held under blanket security with police snipers lining rooftops and cliffs overlooking the court house.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said the conviction would serve as a warning to anyone engaging in forced marriages.
“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.”
Jeffs may also face trial in Arizona, where he has been charged with four counts of accomplice to rape and incest relating to the marriages of two young girls to relatives.
Members of Jeffs’ church are known to live in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota and Canada’s British Columbia.
Jeffs, a self-proclaimed prophet whose followers believe he is descended from Jesus Christ, was arrested in August last year outside of Las Vegas after being included on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.
Jeffs was the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which split from the Mormon Church because of differences over polygamy, was convicted on two charges of acting as an accomplice to rape.
The FLDS broke from the mainstream Mormon Latter-Day Saints more than a century ago because of differences on the question of whether men were allowed to take multiple wives.
Polygamy, or “plural marriage,” is a key plank of the FLDS church, but was not an issue in Jeffs’ trial.
Jeffs’ followers claimed their leader was prosecuted because of the FLDS’s beliefs about polygamy, which is opposed by Mormons and illegal under US law.