Warren Jeffs’ preliminary hearing began today in Utah’s Dixie, St. George Utah. After reading the press coverage, and watching some clips of the actual hearing, I have concluded the media coverage, particularly cable TV, is sensationalistic, and the prosecution case weak.

Starting with cable TV’s coverage:

Court TV has an on sight correspondent, Michael Bryant. While covering the hearing yesterday with Court TV Anchor Rikki Klieman, Bryant reported how law enforcement sharp shooters ringed the courthouse in St. George. In explaining this, he pointed out how many people were essentially anti RFLDS, and specifically mentioned members of the LDS Church, and how many people would want to do Jeffs harm. Now whether he actually meant to imply that LDS Church members would want to physcially harm Warren Jeffs, thus the need for sharp shooters outside the courthouse is unclear. Either way, his reporting was ridiculous. The idea that local armed Mormons might storm the courtroom because of their distaste for RFLDS beliefs was just a bit more than I could take.

CNN, Larry King Live:

The panel on Larry’s show (hosted last night by Ted Rowlands) included a panel with a strong anti-Jeffs bias, without one who was sympathetic to the FLDS point of view. The panel included:

ROWLANDS: Very emotional day in court today. Our panel — two of the folks that we’ll be talking through the hour were in court. We’ll get their first-hand perspective.

Mike Watkiss is a reporter for the Phoenix station KTVK. He’s reported extensively on Warren Jeffs and his FLDS Church and its polygamist practices.

Sarah Hammon was also in court for today’s dramatic testimony. She was raised in a polygamist household with more than 70 children and some 19 sister-wives. Says her father, who was once a contender to become prophet in the church, sexually abused her. To avoid a forced marriage, she ran away from the community as a young teenager.

Fawn Broadbent said Warren Jeffs would not allow her to leave his FLDS group when she wanted to at the age of 16. So she escaped. She’s now 19-year-old — she’s 19 years old.

And Laurie Allen, a former polygamist wife, who escaped from a polygamist sect at the age of 16. She is also a documentary filmmaker. “Banking on Heaven: Polygamy in the Heartland of the American West,” is the title of her film.

The snippets from each of these guests was quite predictible, begining with the supposedly objective TV reporter Mike Watkiss:

Let’s first go to Mike Watkiss, who is in St. George, Utah.

Mike, boy, what a day. It sounds like it was very, very dramatic. Fill us in. What happened?

MIKE WATKISS, REPORTER, KTVK: Well, you said it, Ted. Gut wrenching, heartbreaking, very dramatic day here in the St. George courtroom. This young woman has so much pressure on her shoulders.

A lot of people think that Warren Jeffs ought to really face charges of crimes against humanity for the many lives he would has affected, and many people would argue, ruined.

But it really all boils down to these few charges — rape as an accomplice — and this one star witness. We finally got to see her today. You can’t show her face on television. But her testimony was indeed emotional, chronicling the events that led up to her marriage, at 14 years of age to a 19-year-old young man who is her first cousin. A guy she apparently did not like, who apparently bullied her throughout her young life when they were kids together.

She was placed into this marriage, allegedly by Warren Jeffs, and told to go home and to submit to your husband. This young man allegedly raped her, then, repeatedly. Those are the charges that Mr. Jeffs now faces.

Oh please, crimes against humanity? Will Warren Jeffs be extradited to Iraq to face trial with Saddam Hussein?

Then there was this from another of Rowland’s guests:

LAURIE ALLEN, VICTIM: Well, I was — I was kidnapped at the age of 8 and kept for eight years, basically as a child slave. And I never finished the fourth grade.

And you know, the sad thing is that this is happening to a lot of people. I mean, my case might have been extreme compared to some. And this young lady who testified today, her case is, you know, sad, as all get out. But the thing is it’s happening all over the place. I mean, these people are doing this all the time. And for one person to step up is very courageous.

But, you know, the American people need to understand that this is not uncommon. It’s like Mike says, this is going on all the time. And it needs to be cleaned up.

ROWLANDS: Well, then why has it taken so long for this case to have come to fruition? And why are we only talking about it now?

ALLEN: Well, I think that, if you look at polygamy in general, you’ve got it in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and Texas, the state of our president. These are republican states, these are red states.

I think these people are being protected by corrupt politicians who don’t want to do their job, aren’t enforcing the law. They’re giving these people free handouts. They’re not even making these women give the names of their father of their children. They’re all on the dole. And I think that it’s just another big scandal.

I mean, here we’ve got the Yearning for Zion Ranch going up in Texas, and this is our president’s state. He’s talking about the axis of evil in the Middle East. Well, what about the evil that’s going on right in America and nobody’s doing anything about it?

ROWLANDS: All right. A dramatic day. We’re going to have more about not only what happened in court today, but more about the FLDS Church, more on the spellbinding testimony from today.

Now, I don’t doubt for a minute that some of these experiences as described are not good; but, I’m not certain how they do much to enlighten the public about the actual criminal charges against Warren Jeffs: rape as an accomplice. It’s one thing to run a story on some of the evils of FLDS culture. I don’t think that show, though, has anything to do with the Warren Jeffs preliminary hearing. The CNN transcript is full of these types of examples.

Weak Prosecution

Some of the Larry King show did focus on the actual preliminary hearing and prosecution of the actual case against Jeffs. And, the reporter, Watkiss did make a couple of points about what I also consider to be two significant weaknesses in the prosecution’s case:

WATKISS: He was certainly the de facto prophet. They’ve established fairly clearly that his father, who he inherited the power from, Rulon Jeffs, had suffer a stroke and was, in essence, sort of a figurehead at that point. Warren was calling the shots. I don’t think anybody really debates that.

And I don’t think his lawyers are going to go in and say that he didn’t perform this marriage. I think everybody’s agreeing to that.

But the real weaknesses of the state — of the state’s case are a couple of points. This young woman, before she came up on the radar screen to prosecutors or law enforcement, she went to a civil attorney, an attorney that was gathering up a bunch of civil suits and was going to sue Warren Jeffs. So they’re going to paint her out to be a money grubber, out for bucks. She went to a civil attorney first.

There’s also the issue that Mr. Jeffs is charged as an accomplice to this act. But they have not charged the husband, the alleged perpetrator of the rape. So you wonder why. It certainly adds fuel to the fire of the defense’s claims that this is a persecution against strictly Mr. Jeffs. If it’s such a big deal, why aren’t they charging the husband? We haven’t got a good answer from prosecutor on that. And they’re going to play semantics game.

I think the greatest weakness is the lack of prosecution of this woman’s husband–you know, the actual rapist. Warren Jeffs certainly did not physically rape this woman, nor is he charged with that crime. So far, under cross examination, the victim has admitted that Warren Jeffs never even spoke with her about any obligation she had to have sex with her husband (the actual rapist) who remains uncharged in this case.

The other weakness is the civil case this young woman has brought against Warren Jeffs. The last thing a prosecutor wants from his star witness is the spector of being a money grubbing plaintiff in a civil lawsuit–consulting a civil lawyer about a money lawsuit, before even bothering to report the alleged crime. This is very ripe fodder for cross examination, which is exactly what Jeffs’ defense team did (from The Spectrum):

Tara Isaacson, one of Jeffs’ defense attorney’s, cross-examined Doe and asked her to confirm that her wedding was the worst day of her life and that during the time she was married, she was miserable. Doe replied in the affirmative.

Isaacson went on to show her photos taken after the wedding and in other photos throughout her marriage with John Doe where she was smiling.

Isaacson also asked her why she did not leave Hildale when she was told she had to marry and questioned her about conversations with Jeffs and asked if Jeffs specifically told her to have intercourse with her husband.

Doe said she had no place to go and the “outside world” was the unknown.

Even following the marriage, Doe said she had nowhere to go and felt trapped. Isaacson asked her about a trip she took with a man who is currently her husband to Las Vegas while still married to John Doe.

Isaacson also questioned Jane Doe about a statement she gave to law enforcement about a period of about nine months where she “sugared up the situation,” or submitted to sexual intercourse with her husband to get things she wanted to get from him.

Isaacson questioned Doe about her filing a civil suit against Jeffs before going to police, which led to the charges of rape as an accomplice being filed against Jeffs.

The Deseret News also covered some of the cross examination, which highlighted some of the prosecution’s weaknesses:

Upon cross-examination, defense attorneys countered the woman’s claims of a miserable marriage. Defense lawyer Tara Isaacson read love notes and cards sent by the woman’s husband and showed photos of a happy, smiling couple.

“You were miserable, but you’re holding his hand and smiling?” Isaacson asked.
The woman acknowledged under Isaacson’s questioning that Warren Jeffs never explicitly ordered her to have sex and suggested she was never clear with her religious leaders that she was a victim of marital rape.

“He told me to submit,” the witness said.

“Submit doesn’t mean go have intercourse. That may have been your interpretation but that is not what he said,” Isaacson replied.

“Jane Doe IV” is also known as “M.J.” and she has filed a multimillion dollar civil lawsuit against Jeffs, the FLDS Church and its financial arm, the $110 million United Effort Plan Trust. Isaacson noted that the alleged victim filed the civil lawsuit before going to police and reporting any crime.

Also from the Deseret News, excerpts of a defense motion to dismiss the case:

Defense lawyers fired back this afternoon, asking a judge to dismiss the case against the Fundamentalist LDS Church leader.

In a motion to dismiss the case, defense lawyer Walter Bugden Jr. says the state is confusing the culpability of the alleged rapist and Jeffs, who is charged with rape as an accomplice.

“The state alleges that the victim did not consent to sexual intercourse with the principal and bases its allegations on the actions of the Defendant (Jeffs) i.e., that he used psychological manipulation and his position as a religious leader to gain her consent,” Budgen wrote in a motion obtained by the Deseret Morning News.

Citing a series of case histories, Bugden attacked the prosecution’s claims by saying that Jeffs did not “command, encourage or intentionally aid,” the alleged rapist in having sex with his purported wife.

“Moreover, merely by acting as the community’s religious leader, the Defendant (Jeffs) did not affirmatively act to request, command, encourage or intentionally aid the principal in enticing or coercing the alleged victim,” Bugden wrote, concluding that Jeffs was not an accomplice to a rape.

I have still not heard any answer to the question, where is the husband rapist in all this? If you’re on this jury, you are going to have the same question. I think it is a powerful question, and an incredible weakness in the prosecution’s case. Here, the prosecution is asking a jury to convict Warren Jeffs as an accomplice to a rape for which not one person has been charged, let alone convicted. The prelimnary hearing did not conclude, and has been continued to 12/14/06.

Even if the prosecutors convince the judge to hold him over for trial, my guess at the end of the day is that Warren Jeffs walks from this criminal charge. He may have engaged in very morally reprehensible conduct during his life–but this criminal charge and prosecution is not the best way to address those issues.

You can read more Jeffs’ coverage:

Dave’s Mormon Inquiry

Arizona Republic

Deseret News

Fox News

New York Times

New York Times

NPR (with audio clips from the hearing)

Salt Lake Tribune