Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Warren Jeffs Trial: The Verdict

[News] St George, UT - Warren Jeffs has been found guilty. He has been convicted on two counts of Rape as an Accomplice.

A few minutes after 2:15 p.m. yesterday (Tuesday, Sept. 25), the jury was led back into the courtroom. Affirming that they had, in fact, reached a verdict, jury foreman David Finch (a 64 year-old retiree) handed the verdict form to the bailiff, who in turn handed it to Judge James Shumate. Shumate studied the form, then added the date and his signature, and handed it to the court clerk, who was asked to read it. She said, "In the matter of State v. Warren Steed Jeffs…"

Gerald Munk, 36, St. George City Employee: “Basically she didn’t have a choice. The simple fact of the matter was her age, and the law. Warren Jeffs was her only ticket out of the marriage… Jeffs was a prophet that told his followers that he would take away all of their choice, all of their responsibility, and place them in their marriages. He did not give them any alternatives.”

Garry Lynn Maxwell, 40, Draftsman/Civil Engineer: “There were laws that were broken, and [what mattered was] how Mr. Jeffs led to the breaking of those laws. Not what [Elissa Wall] would get [in a civil suite]… Obviously sex occurred. She was underage. She was illegally married. It was against the law.”

Heather Danielle Newkirk, 32, House Wife/Massage Therapist: [Asked what the jury’s impressions of FLDS culture are] “Very interesting, we got quite an education. It made me grateful for my husband… I’m happy to have the freedom and choices that I do.”

Diedre Shaw, 32, House Wife: [Asked if the case is about religion] “No. But how can you separate it?”

Listening to the jurors explain how they reached their verdict, they kept coming reiterating the key terms of the trial. Enticement. Recklessness. Consent. It was interesting to hear how these words weighted on their minds while they were locked in the jury room, and how methodical they were in reaching their decision “There were a lot of things to consider, that we had to factor into the whole picture,” said Heather Danielle Newkirk.

They discussed at length, which testimony made the greatest impression on them. Almost all of them cited Rebecca Musser, Elissa Wall’s sister, who denounced Jeffs’s harsh treatment of his followers from the stand, pointing and jabbing her finger in his direction. The jurors also seemed to distrust Allen Steed, Wall’s former husband. They found his standing in witness box, as opposed to sitting, to be strange, and they were troubled by the discrepancies in the timeline he provided of his and Wall’s sexual relationship during the prosecution’s cross examination. (Those discrepancies seemed minor to me to me at the time, and I failed to mention them in my analysis of Steed’s testimony.) A reporter asked what they thought of the fact that Steed has never been charged with the rape in question, to which Rachel Karimi – 28, House Wife - said, “That was not our concern here. Our concern was Mr. Jeffs.”

When the testimony of several FLDS members, solicited by the defense to shed light on their cultural norms, was brought up, the jurors kind of hesitated. “Well, they were consistent,” said Newkirk. But those accounts didn’t lessen the impact of the Wall sisters’ testimony in the jury’s mind. One of the defense’s FLDS witness seems to have even hurt their case. Jennie Pipkin testified that Jeffs had released her from her marriage after she complained of being sexual molested by her husband, which was intended to show, contrary to Wall’s story, forced sex was cause for an immediate release form marriage. But the jury interpreted it as only a demonstration of Jeffs’s power to release women from their husbands, and in no way a contradiction of Wall’s testimony.

The more the jurors talked, the more that it became clear that all of them, even those who had initial doubts, had adopted the basic premise of the prosecution’s legal theory right from the start. The defense’s theory – with its doubts about the appropriateness of the charges and the motivations of key witnesses, and its talk of religious persecution and the state’s political motives – didn’t seem to penetrate their thinking very deeply. That is not to suggest that they were unduly biased, or that their verdict was not reached in good faith; there is absolutely nothing that would suggest that. What it means is that the jury saw a crime committed, and was convinced by the prosecution that the ultimate blame rested with Warren Jeffs.

“[Jeffs] held all the keys to release her from that marriage,” says Benjamin Coulter – 26, retail salesman – articulating the prosecution’s case perfectly, “He was the only one that could have told her that she didn’t have to be in that marriage, and that there would be no consequences.”

Brock Belnap, Washington County Attorney: “I feel it is a just verdict… that reaffirms my faith in the jury system. I will always be grateful for the courage of Elissa Wall, who withstood attacks on her character and credibility with dignity and honor. We now have other things to do. More cases pending. We are going to go back, and go to work.”

Elissa Wall, Complaining Witness in State v. Jeffs: “I still have tender feelings for the FLDS community. I pray they will stand back and reexamine what they have been led to believe. To the girls, know that you are created equal. That you do not have to surrender your rights or spiritual sovereignty.”

Richard Holm, Former FLDS Member and Hildale City Councilman: “Warren Jeffs is an opportunist, who say an opportunity to take power and glory. He is a wolf who dressed himself in sheep’s cloths, which he used to hurt those around him. He is a victim of hi own desires…” [Asked if he has any malice towards Jeffs for tearing apart his family] “I’ve tried to get over that. I’m relieved I didn’t have to testify… There is a power base [in the FLDS community] that will carry on though.”

Gary Ingles, Special Investigator for the Mojave County Attorney: “You can have a religion that says you can violate the law. But when you do violate the law, we will come after you.”

Elaine Tyler, President of the Hope Organization: “I’m on Cloud Nine. I hope this points to a change. You can’t force little girls to marry; that is child abuse.”

Statement from Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General: “This verdict is a victory for the many victims who have been hurt by Warren Jeffs and have been too afraid to speak out. 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… Today’s verdict is just the beginning of a long journey to seek justice for all.”

Walter Bugden, Defense Attorney for Warren Jeffs: “No comment.”

On the first full day of jury deliberations, Monday, Sept. 24, the jury informed Judge Shumate at about 2:45 that they had reached a decision on the first count of the indictment against Jeffs, but not on the second count, and that they did not believe further deliberations were needed.

The initial split on the charges was a little odd, because the distinction between the two was only really made during the prosecution’s closing argument. You may recall that the first charge is linked to a rape that is alleged to have occurred between April 23 (the date of Elissa Wall’s wedding to Allen Steed, where Jeffs told them to ‘go forth, and multiply’), and May 12 of 2001. The second charge is for a rape committed between May 13, 2001 (when Wall went to Jeffs for counseling, and he told her to ‘give herself mind, body and soul’) and mid 2003, when Wall left the FLDS community.

The split jury was five to three with Diedre Shaw, Gerald Munk, and Heather Danielle Newkirk not ready to vote to convict on that second count. Later, they said the broad timeline for that alleged rape troubled them, and they wondered if Wall’s ‘sugaring up’ of Steed was a contradiction of her claims. “It was really hard,” Shaw said, “I though fists were going to start flying.”

Shumate ordered the jury to go back into their deliberations, to review the jury instructions, and to take more time to try to find away around their impasse.

But outside, the media was hungry for a verdict. So much so that an innocent miscommunication among a few reporters and photographers led to several news outlets declaring a guilty verdict on their websites. Those headlines were down within the hour, and at 8:10 the jury was sent home for the night.

There has been a lot of speculation as to the ‘event’ that caused one juror to be excused Tuesday morning, but later many other jurors would credit the selected alternate, Rachel Karimi, with breaking the deadlock. Those who had questioned Wall’s ‘sugaring up’ began to see it more as a coping mechanism as opposed to a demonstration of her will. And that led them back to one of those key words, enticement.

After the verdict was read, the jury was excused, and sentencing issues were addressed. When Shumate excused the courtroom, the FLDS member in attendance, all of whom had remained stone-faced the whole time, rushed past the cameras outside, and into their cars.

Jeffs had been stone-faced too, not showing a hint of emotion when he was found guilty. But as his lawyers discussed possible dates for a sentencing hearing, Jeffs’s eyes began to drop, his moth hung open a bit, and he fidgeted slightly.

Daniel Medwed, Professor of Criminal Procedure, University of Utah: “I’m a little surprised by the verdict, but I can see that many people in this community think that Warren Jeffs is morally reprehensible, and that his actions strike a cord with people… In the end, the prosecution swung for the fences and hit a home run. They charged Warren Jeffs, not with some relatively minor crime, but with a first-degree felony. And they were successful.”

Ken Driggs, Civil Rights Attorney and FLDS Historian: “I thought the state’s case was weak, and that it was a stretch. There are many, obvious issues that will be taken up in the appellate system, particularly the issue of whether Utah’s rape statute is intended to cover this type of conduct. I understand that the jury was greatly affected by the girls age. The issue of underage brides has been around in the FLDS community for a while, and it seems to have picked up under Warren Jeffs – it’s almost like he was sticking his finger in the eye of law enforcement. But ultimately all of the first amendment issues about freedom or religion are not going to protect you from this type of conduct with minors.”

Warren Jeffs has been escorted back to the Purgatory Correctional Facility, where he will await the sentencing phase of his trial. His lawyers have requested an extension beyond the maximum 45 days allowed by law, so that they can prepare a pre-sentencing report, which will likely include a psycho-sexual evaluation. He will likely still stand trial in Arizona, facing charges of Conspiracy to Commit Child Abuse and Incest charges, but the Mojave County Attorney has not yet determined if and when that will happen. Jeffs’s lawyers are almost certain to begin working on his appeal, on a myriad of issues, as soon as possible.

Earlier today, Washington County filed rape charges against Allen Steed.

That is what we know the day after Warren Jeffs’s conviction. There are still big questions: What will happen to the FLDS community in his absence? Will more of his followers flee Hildale and Colorado City for Texas, Canada, and parts unknown? What actions against other FLDS members, and members of other polygamist clans, will this lead to? What will be the political ramifications across the state?

Those questions, and many others, will surely be answered in due time. (Louis Godfrey)


  1. Brilliant reporting, somebody pay that man.

  2. Sounds to me like they should find a place UNDER the jail to put this guy and LEAVE him there for a VERY long time.

    "Whats hiding on your PC?"


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.