5th District Judge James L. Shumate has ruled that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs must stand trial on rape charges. This is not particularly surprising given the low threshold Utah had to meet; but, I think the prosecution still has a long row to hoe to convince a jury to convict on the accessory to rape charge.
ST. GEORGE — A judge Thursday decided sufficient evidence exists to have polygamous leader Warren Jeffs stand trial on charges of rape as an accomplice.
After two days of testimony in a preliminary hearing, 5th District Judge James Shumate in his ruling said Jeffs occupied a position of special trust over the alleged victim, who claims she was forced at age 14 into a marriage with her 19-year-old first cousin. The judge also ruled Jeffs enticed the woman into the marriage.
A trial date was set for April 23 through May 4. Jeffs is accused of forcing the woman, now 20, into the marriage with her first cousin. Jeffs presided over the quick wedding ceremony at a motel in Caliente, Nev., in 2002.
The issue is not whether Warren Jeffs “occupied a position of special trust over the alleged victim.” Rather the legal issue is whether Warren Jeffs is guilty of the crime of being an accomplice to rape:
Rape as an accomplice, a first degree felony, in that, acting with the required mental state, Warren Steed Jeffs solicited, requested, commanded, encouraged, or intentionally aided another to commit sexual intercourse with another person without the victim’s consent, in that Jane Doe IV was 14 years of age or older, but younger than 18 years of age, and John Doe IV was more than three years older than Jane and enticed or coerced Jane to submit or participate in sexual intercourse in violation of Utah Code Annotated [sections] 76-5-402, 76-5-406(11) and 76-2-202 (1953, as amended).
I’m surprised to see the judge use that type of language in his ruling. The more compelling argument, in my opinion was that offered by Jeffs’ defense counsel:
Jeffs’ defense lawyer, Wally Bugden, argued that the state does not have the evidence for a trial. “The only conduct by Warren Jeffs was to marry these people,” he said during today’s hearing in 5th District Court. Prosecutors contend Jeffs used his influence to force the girl into the marriage.
Jeffs isn’t being charged with marrying these individuals. He’s charged with a felony as an accomplice to rape. The talk about whether he married these two is just irrelevant.
The Salt Lake Tribune, as usual has the most extensive coverage. Their story notes:
Earlier today, Jeffs’ defense attorney, Walter Bugden, said Jeffs merely conducted the marriage and offered standard marital advice – acts that fall short of being an accomplice to rape. There is no proof that Jeffs knew Jane Doe was having nonconsensual sex or that her husband believed she was not a willing participant, Bugden said during a preliminary hearing on whether Jeffs would stand trial on two counts of accessory to rape.
The state has neither a crime nor an accessory to a crime, he said. Without that, a “person who does not know a crime is occurring can’t be held liable for it,” he said in his closing argument. “It doesn’t matter if I was encouraging someone to do something if a crime doesn’t happen.” As the court broke for lunch, Jeffs turned, smiled and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders to 16 FLDS members in the audience, as if to say, “Who knows?”
Well, now Mr. Jeffs knows that he will return to court to formally stand trial for these rape charges. But, I think he stands a good chance at acquittal. During the prelimiary hearing Jeffs’ defense teamed called only one witness, a sheriff’s detective who testifed the alleged victim here never mentioned anything about being raped against her will:
The defense called just one witness: Shauna Jones, the Washington County Sheriff’s detective whose interview with Jane Doe led to the charges against Jeffs.
Bugden focused his questions on the fact that in that interview Jane Doe said she never explicitly discussed her sexual relationship with Jeffs, only telling him she was unhappy in the marriage and that her husband “did some things and touched her in places that made her uncomfortable.” “That is not the same as saying, I’m being forced to have sexual intercourse against my will,” he said.
I think the most ironic fact in all this sad story is the fact that “Jane Doe’s” husband has never been charged with rape. Why is that? If anyone is guilty of rape, clearly it would be the individual who performed the alleged act. Well, he’s no where to be found in this case. And, prosecutors refuse to talk about why.
COOPER: No, it’s not Kenny G. It’s the musical stylings of Warren Jeffs, former FBI fugitive, polygamist sect leader, and as he just heard, songs silenced. His thousands of followers stand behind him still. Tonight he’s behind bars inside a jail house. Please, let’s turn that off.
Earlier today, Jeffs was in court. So was CNN’s Gary Tuchman.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time since he was apprehended and charged with being an accomplice to rape, polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was asked to make a plea. JUDGE JAMES SHUMATE, WASHINGTON COUNTY, UTAH: To these two offenses, Mr. Jeffs, how do you plead?
TUCHMAN: Jeffs said not guilty. You couldn’t hear him or see him, because the court operated video system missed the moment. But the plea came just after the judge decided this man, who’s been accused of performing marriages of many underage girls, must stand trial beginning April 23.
SHUMATE: I do find that there’s probable cause that you committed counts one and count two as an accomplice, a party to two different acts of rape.
TUCHMAN: During this preliminary hearing the judge heard from the alleged victim, who was 14 when she says Warren Jeffs commanded her to marry her 19-year-old first cousin.
“JANE DOE”, ALLEGED RAPE VICTIM: And the entire time I was there, I was — I was crying. And I just — I honestly just wanted to die, because I was so scared.
TUCHMAN: But Jeffs’ attorney said he was following God’s orders and didn’t know the girl was having sexual intercourse against her will.
WALTER BUGDEN JR., WARREN JEFFS’ LAWYER: There was never a report of sexual intercourse or rape to Mr. Jeffs.
TUCHMAN: But the judge cited her many complaints about the marriage.
SHUMATE: Marriage, as discussed by these parties, did also include the concept of sexual intercourse.
TUCHMAN: Jeffs is not accused of physically raping the star witness, but the ex-husband, who prosecutors say is criminally responsible, is not being charged as of now.
BRIAN FILTER, PROSECUTION’S SPOKESPERSON: There are valid tactical and legal reasons why that hasn’t happened yet.
TUCHMAN: Prosecutors could be considering not charging the ex- husband in exchange for testifying against Jeffs. But could a jury be troubled by the alleged rapist was not charged by a crime and the alleged facilitator is?
PROF. LYNNE HENDERSON, UNLV LAW SCHOOL: No case that involves rape is a slam dunk. And he’s charged with being an accomplice to rape, which adds a little wrinkle to it.
TUCHMAN: The alleged victim and her ex-husband, whose name we’re not using because he hasn’t been charged, lived in this house in a compound in Hilldale, Utah. It’s not clear if the ex-husband still lives there. But we had hoped to get a comment from him by trying to get beyond the walls. (on camera) We’ve come here before, and rung the call bell, and it just rings and rings. They have a camera here and a camera there. They know who we are, and they’re not particularly inclined to respond to us.
(voice-over) There was no answer. The ex-husband is still active in the church. And although he wasn’t in court at least 18 church members were. They rose in respect when their prophet entered the room. Jeffs smiled at them, and most of them smiled back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He’s at peace. He’s at peace.
TUCHMAN: Smiles disappeared, though, after the judge’s decision, which could lead to life in prison if Jeffs is found guilty of these crimes.
COOPER: So Gary, does he stay the leader of the church while he’s behind bars and even if he’s convicted?
TUCHMAN: Yes, I think it’s fair to say, Anderson, that the people in these communities of Hilldale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, still consider him their leader. They tell us, in most cases, off camera, they love him, revere him. And they think he’s being persecuted because of his religion.
But if he is convicted, and he ends up getting up to life in prison, it’s not clear what would happen at that point. Because as we all know from watching the story and from watching previous stories, one of the big starts of being the leader is performing marriages. And if he’s behind bars the rest of his life, he’s not going to be able to do that.
COOPER: All right. Gary Tuchman, thanks.