ST. GEORGE, Utah (Reuters) - A young woman told a Utah court on Friday she wanted to die after being forced into sex at age 14 in a marriage arranged by one of the biggest U.S. polygamous sects.
But the self-styled prophet of the breakaway Mormon clan told her she was disobedient and needed to repent and submit to her new husband, the woman testified.
The woman, now 21, testified she had never been kissed or had a boyfriend before the 2001 wedding to her 19-year-old cousin and locked herself in the bathroom after the ceremony.
The wedding was presided over by Warren Jeffs, 51, the leader and self-described “prophet” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, a breakaway Mormon sect that practices polygamy.
Jeffs is on trial on two counts of being an accomplice to rape, a charge he denies. Jeffs is not charged with polygamy but the trial has focused attention on the practice and his secretive sect, whose approximately 7,500 members live in an isolated enclave on the Utah-Arizona border.
The woman, who cannot be identified, said she begged her husband not to touch her as he undressed her one night soon after their wedding.
“I can’t do this, please don‘t,'” she said she told her husband. “I was sobbing. My whole entire body was shaking I was so scared. He didn’t stop. He just laid me onto the bed and had sex.”
Afterward, the woman said she felt dirty and took two bottles of painkillers. “I just wanted to die. I didn’t want to deal with (my husband) anymore. I didn’t want to deal with Warren, or the prophet, or my mother. ... I was so hurt by them,” she said.
The woman later arranged a meeting with Jeffs and told him her husband was touching her in ways she did not fully understand.”
“I told him (Jeffs) I was sorry I had failed so severely. ... He told me that I needed to repent, that I was not living up to my vows, I was not being obedient, I was not being submissive and that was what my problem was,” she recounted.
Jeffs told her to go home “and give myself mind, body, and soul” to her husband.
The woman broke down in tears on Friday while describing her wedding ceremony in a Nevada hotel, saying she felt “trapped. Extremely overwhelmed.”
The woman left her husband and the FLDS in 2003 and subsequently remarried.
Jeffs’ attorneys have said the case is one of religious persecution and have questioned how Jeffs would have known that rape was being committed behind bedroom doors.
Under Utah law, a person 14 or older can consent to sexual intercourse.
The early Mormon church once embraced polygamy, but officially rejected it in 1890. Although polygamy is illegal in Utah, an estimated 37,000 people in Western states subscribe to it. The law is rarely enforced because local authorities say prosecuting “plural” marriages is impractical.
The sect believes Jeffs is a prophet whose power comes directly from God. Marriages were arranged after a “revelation” by him and women wear the long braids and dresses worn a century ago.
The accuser has said she lived with her mother, stepfather and about 15 of his other wives and 30 other children.
The case has raised such passions that Jeffs is wearing a bulletproof vest to court underneath his suit.