“Warren Jeffs would not have arranged for a ceremony three hours away, for an illegal marriage if he did not intend for Elissa Wall (the victim, whose name has finally been made public) to have sex with Allen Steed,” Belnap said. And again and again, he fell back on a familiar refrain, “There was no consent,” to confirm the gut reaction that something very wrong had occurred.
When Belnap took his seat, Walter Bugden stood for the defense, and unloaded both proverbial barrels. He aggressively dissected the prosecutions interpretations of statute, often referring to the lawyers by name. Bugden viciously questioned the reliability of the prosecution’s witnesses, particularly Wall. He exhibited a medical chart (written up by Jane Blackmore, a midwife who testified for the prosecution) that indicated Wall might have engaged in drug abuse. Bugden also detailed the terms of a settlement proposal in Wall’s law suite against the FLDS Church, under which both she and her attorneys would receive significant land holdings and cash. (Wall’s attorney, Greg Hoole, said that Bugden had misrepresented the terms of the settlement agreement, and called the drug use accusations ‘preposterous.’)
But book ending Bugden’s assault on the mechanics of the prosecution’s case, there were odes to the presumption of innocence and the proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and talk of a religion-targeted, overzealous prosecution. “This case is about religion. That is why they are all here [pointing to the media in the gallery]. But this case is not State v. FLDS Culture, it is State v. Warren Jeffs,” Bugden said. “The state could have charged Mr. Jeffs with the appropriate crime – solemnizing an unlawful marriage – but … Utah has gone crazy, for political reasons. So they dropped a nuclear bomb on the FLDS, and charged Warren Jeffs with rape.”
In his rebuttal, Belnap struck back, implying that Bugden was saying what was necessary for his client’s case, but that his statements did not constitute evidence. He then affirmed the core themes of his earlier statement: “These are not theories. They are the law, and if you apply them, you have to find Warren Jeffs guilty.”
But outside the courtroom, there are doubts. Representatives from the Arizona Attorney General’s office were on hand today, and while they will press ahead with there case against Jeffs regardless of the verdict, there demeanor suggested they were at least preparing for the possibility that they will not have a Utah conviction to base there case on.
But now the only doubts that matter are the ones the eight men and women in the jury room have, and whether those doubts are reasonable.
Allen Steed’s testimony was the stuff of country songs. The former husband of Elissa Wall, Steed is said to have committed the rape that Warren Jeffs is charged with accomplicing. But Steed has never been charged with that crime, let alone convicted of it, and seeing him on the stand the other day, it’s not hard to see why. Steed, standing rather than sitting in the witness box, was soft-spoken and painfully awkward as he talked about his rocky, short-lived marriage. It was hard to see him commanding obedience from any woman, even a fourteen year-old. “I like to think I was in charge [in his marriage],” Steed said, “But I know I wasn’t.”
“It shows that the Attorney General’s office wanted Jeffs,” says Daniel Medwed, a professor of criminal law at Utah’s S.J. Quinny Law School. “And that Jeffs may be ultimately more to blame for what happened.”
What happened is still an open question. Steed’s version of events almost completely contradicts Wall’s testimony. He maintains that he never forced her to have sex, and he does not remember her weeping uncontrollably on their wedding day. The only thing he did confirm was an incident where he exposed himself to her in a public park a few weeks after they were married. “In my clumsy way, I thought it would move things along,” Steed said. “I’m not very good at communicating.”
But the he said/she said may even be beside the point. Wall has let it be known that she will not testify against Steed willingly (she has even referred to him as a ‘victim’ in the past), and the police have never previously interviewed Steed about these incidents. The question is, what will the lack of a conviction in the principal crime at issue do to the accomplice case against Jeffs?
“Under Utah’s Accomplice Statute, there is no need for the state to prove that the crime in question happend. They just need to prove Jeffs acted criminally recklessly in the matter,” says Medwed. “But [in the mind of the jurors], the lack of a rape conviction likely helps Jeffs.”
From the beginning, the defense has tried to get the jury to doubt that a rape ever actually occurred, Even if the law allows for such a leap, their theory almost certainly goes, the jury just won’t be able to find Jeffs an accomplice an act they doubt happened. Towards the end of his testimony, Steed talked about how he felt the day he found out Wall had been seeing another man – her current husband, Lamont Barlow. “Weakness flared up. I had a desire to get my gun. But I knew I couldn’t, that it wasn’t right,” Steed said, and his shoulders slumped. You couldn’t help but just feel sorry for the guy.
(In the interest of full disclosure: Allen Steed’s lawyer, Jim Bradshaw, has acted as my legal council in the past.)
What goes through the mind of a ‘prophet?’ In order to lead a fundamentalist community in the way that Warren Jeffs led (and in spirit, still leads) the FLDS, to have people believe that you alone can receive God’s true revelation, do you have to believe it you yourself?
This has been one of the ongoing subplots of the whole Jeffs affair, and has been lurking in the background throughout his trial. The nature of his prophethood in the FLDS Church – is it purely political or ‘divinely ordained’ – first came up in a preliminary hearing earlier this year when Jeffs tried to pass a mysterious note to Judge Shumate, but was stopped by his lawyers before he could. A Deseret News photographer was able to snap a picture of the folded piece of paper in Jeffs’s hands. A few days later, D-News reporter Ben Winslow wrote up the results of an independent analysis the newspaper had done of the photograph, and it’s conclusion that the note was Jeffs confessing to not being a true prophet. (The defense tried to get a contempt order for Winslow when he refused to reveal the source of the analysis, but the Judge Shumate quashed it.)
Flash forward to the trial, where much of the prosecution’s theory has rested on the idea that Jeffs essentially usurped his father Rulon’s position as head of the FLDS Church around 2001, after Rulon had suffered two strokes, and that he used that ecclesiastical authority to accomplice Wall’s rape. The prosecution has had to walk a fine line in presenting putting forward this argument, because much of the testimony to that affect constitutes inadmissible hearsay.
But in the testimony of Wall’s sister, Rebecca Musser, her vantage point as Rulon’s wife allowed her to describe more and more appointments with the prophet being taken by Jeffs (who was technically First Counselor at the time), and that he was making more ecclesiastical decisions. After Rulon’s death, Musser described the harsh treatment Jeffs inflicted on his father’s former wives, including marrying them off to other men in the community. When Musser refused, Jeffs told her that he would ‘break her, that he would make her a good [submissive] wife.’ (Court documents on the anticipated, but never heard, testimony of Jethro Barlow attested to a more ‘authoritarian’ feeling taking over the FLDS when Jeffs became prophet.)
So was being prophet purely about power for Jeffs? Is it an elaborate sham that only Jeffs, and those before him, are in on? I wrote the Ben Winslow yesterday, to see if he had any thoughts on this. “There is just no way to answer that question,” he replied. “There is just no way to speculate about what is going in Warren Jeffs’ head.” (Louis Godfrey)