State v. Jeffs

Decision Date14 December 2010
Docket NumberNo. 20080408.,20080408.
Citation243 P.3d 1250,2010 UT 49
PartiesSTATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Warren Steed JEFFS, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Mark L. Shurtleff, Att'y Gen., Laura Dupaix, Craig L. Barlow, Asst. Att'ys Gen., Salt Lake City, Brock R. Belnap, Ryan J. Shaum, St. George, for plaintiff.

Walter F. Bugden, Jr., Tara L. Isaacson, Salt Lake City, Richard A. Wright, Las Vegas, NV, for defendant.

PARRISH, Justice:


¶ 1 Defendant Warren Jeffs was convicted of two counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the compelled marriage of fourteen-year-old Elissa Wall to her nineteen-year-old first cousin, Allen Steed, and the resulting sexual intercourse between them. Jeffs appeals his convictions, arguing a variety of errors in the proceedings before the trial court. While we are unconvinced by the majority of Jeffs' arguments, we conclude that there were serious errors in the instructions given to the jury that deprived Jeffs of the fair trial to which all are entitled under our laws. We therefore reverse the convictions and remand for a new trial.

¶ 2 Recognizing the highly publicized nature of this case, we remind the parties, thetrial court, and observers, that the presumption of innocence guaranteed to all by our Constitution demands great care from the courts and those who prosecute on behalf of the people. As this state's court of last resort, we are not at liberty to accept less, nor could we, consistent with our oaths to support, obey, and defend the constitutions of this state and country.


¶ 3 "On appeal, we review the record facts in a light most favorable to the jury's verdict." State v. Holgate, 2000 UT 74, ¶ 2, 10 P.3d 346 (internal quotation marks omitted). Conflicting evidence is presented "only as necessary to understand issues raised on appeal." Id. We recite the facts of this case accordingly.

¶ 4 Elissa Wall was raised as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("FLDS Church"). As a follower of that religion, she was extensively exposed to the teachings of the defendant, Warren Jeffs ("Jeffs"), who is the son of, and the former first counselor to, then-FLDS leader Rulon Jeffs ("Rulon"). From the first through the sixth grade, Wall attended school at Alta Academy, a private FLDS school where Jeffs acted as a teacher and as the principal. Outside of school, Wall was further exposed to Jeffs' teachings through Sunday meetings, church literature, and recordings that were broadcast through her home on a speaker system and that she listened to on a personal cassette player.

¶ 5 Proper relationships between the sexes figured prominently in Jeffs' teachings. He taught that, prior to marriage, boys and girls were to treat each other as "snakes," avoiding all intermingling or social contact. Girls were to relax this standard only with their husbands after marriage. However, most FLDS girls, including Wall, received no instruction about anatomy or reproduction. Jeffs taught that girls would be trained in these matters by their husbands.

¶ 6 Jeffs' teachings also focused extensively on the importance of obedience. As "God on earth," the FLDS prophet and his counselors were to be obeyed completely and willingly. Failure to do so would result in forfeiture of spiritual salvation, loss of family and friends, denial of marriage, and removal from the FLDS community. In addition to obeying their church leaders, Jeffs taught that women should obey their husbands, who were their individual "priesthood heads."

¶ 7 Wall witnessed the consequences of failing to follow these teachings firsthand in 1999 when her father was deemed disobedient to FLDS leaders and had his family "stripped from him." Wall, her mother, and her siblings were removed from her father's home in Salt Lake City and sent to live with Fred Jessop, Rulon's then second counselor, in Hildale, Utah. Jeffs subsequently performed a ceremony marrying Wall's mother to Jessop as one of his plural wives.

¶ 8 The doctrine that God will reveal to the FLDS prophet which of his followers should be joined in marriage relationships is fundamental to the FLDS faith. Wall, therefore, expected that church leaders would arrange her marriage. But she was shocked when, in 2001, Jessop told her that the prophet had a "place of marriage" for her and that she was to prepare herself for that place. Wall, who was then only fourteen years old, objected because of her age, but Jessop again told her that she needed to prepare herself. When Wall asked who she was to marry, Jessop told her that it would be "revealed" to her later. A few days before the wedding, Jessop told her she would marry Allen Steed, her nineteen-year-old first cousin. Wall told Jessop she would not marry Steed, but Jessop told her she would have to discuss the matter with the prophet, Rulon, since it was he who had arranged the marriage.

¶ 9 Rulon had recently suffered a debilitating stroke and Jeffs was managing his affairs. Wall called Jeffs and arranged a meeting with Rulon. Jeffs was present when Wall spoke with Rulon. She told Rulon that she did not wish to be disobedient, but asked him to let her wait until she was at least sixteen to be married and to place her withsomeone other than her cousin. Rulon told Wall, "Follow your heart, sweetie. Follow your heart." Wall understood this to mean that she would not have to marry Steed. Jeffs, however, told her afterwards, "The prophet wanted me to remind you that this is the right thing to do. And you will go forward with this." Later that day, Jessop, despite Wall's pleading, confirmed that her wedding to Steed would still take place.

¶ 10 Two of Wall's older sisters, both of whom were married to Rulon, tried to intervene on Wall's behalf. Jeffs was present during their conversation with Rulon. Rulon expressed concern over the arrangements, but Jeffs said that Jessop was "insisting that this happen because of who he is" and "[w]e would like to honor his request."

¶ 11 Knowing that she would no longer be welcome in Jessop's home and that she would have to give up her relationships with her mother and her siblings if she did not marry Steed, Wall felt she had no option but to go through with the marriage. In April 2001, Wall was taken to Caliente, Nevada, for the wedding. Jeffs performed the ceremony, throughout which Wall cried tears of despair and fear. When Jeffs asked her if she took Steed to be her husband, she hung her head and said nothing. Jeffs repeated the question, and again Wall did not answer. After a long silence, Jeffs asked Wall's mother to stand by Wall and hold her hand. Jeffs repeated the question a third time, and Wall's mother squeezed her hand. Finally, Wall answered, "Okay, I do." Jeffs told Steed he could kiss the bride, but Wall hung her head and shook it. Jeffs commanded, "Lisi, kiss Allen." Wall gave Steed "a peck on the lips," then dropped his hand. Jeffs rejoined Wall's and Steed's hands and pronounced, "Now go forth and multiply and replenish the earth with good priesthood children." Wall then ran from the room and locked herself in a bathroom. Although no marriage license had been obtained, Wall considered herself married to Steed, which made him her leader and "priesthood head."

¶ 12 During the honeymoon trip that followed, Steed began touching Wall sexually. Still ignorant of sex, Wall did not understand why he was touching her and was "terrified" and "horrified." She repeatedly asked Steed to stop, telling him that she hated him and did not want him to touch her. Two to three weeks after the wedding, Steed exposed his genitals to Wall at a park. She ran away from him crying and hid in her mother's room. She stayed in her mother's room until the early hours of the morning, hoping that Steed would go to sleep. When she returned to her own room, however, she found Steed sitting on the bed. Over Wall's extensive protests, Steed began to undress her. She broke away and fled back to her mother's room, where she stayed for several days. When Wall eventually returned to her own room, Steed told her, "It is time for you to be a wife and do your duty." Although Wall cried and begged him not to, Steed then had sexual intercourse with Wall. The first of the State's two charges against Jeffs is based on this act of intercourse.

¶ 13 In the late spring of 2001, Wall had another meeting with Jeffs. She told Jeffs that Steed was touching her and doing things that she "was not comfortable with and didn't fully understand." She begged Jeffs for a "release" from the marriage, the FLDS equivalent of a divorce. In response, Jeffs told Wall that she needed to "repent" and that she was not being "obedient ... [and] submissive." Instead of releasing her from the marriage, Jeffs told her that she "needed to go home and give [her]self to [Steed], who was [her] priesthood head and husband, mind, body, and soul and obey without any question." Within days of this meeting, Steed again had sexual intercourse with Wall. The second of the State's two charges against Jeffs is based on this act of intercourse. The relationship between Wall and Steed continued through September 2003, with sex sometimes occurring without Wall's consent and sometimes with her consent.

¶ 14 The State charged Jeffs with two counts of rape as an accomplice, a first degree felony, under Utah Code sections 76-2-202 and 76-5-402 (2008). Following a preliminary hearing, Jeffs was bound over fortrial. A jury convicted him as charged. Jeffs moved to arrest judgment, alleging that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. The trial court denied the motion and sentenced Jeffs to two consecutive prison terms of five years to life. Jeffs moved for a new trial, arguing that the court had erred in seating an alternate juror after deliberations had begun. The court denied this motion on the basis of invited error. This appeal followed. We have jurisdiction pursuant...

To continue reading

Request your trial
54 cases
  • State v. Evans
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • November 4, 2021
    ...(internal quotation marks omitted), and present conflicting evidence "only as necessary to understand issues raised on appeal." State v. Jeffs , 2010 UT 49, ¶ 3, 243 P.3d 1250 (citation omitted).3 "59FIFTY" is the "flagship style" of the New Era cap company and is advertised as "an icon in ......
  • State v. Apodaca, 20140774-CA
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • June 28, 2018
    ...mental state, which is reflected in subsection (2)(a) of Instruction 36, "the accomplice desires to cause" the principal offense. State v. Jeffs , 2010 UT 49, ¶ 45, 243 P.3d 1250. ¶75 On the other hand, a person acts "[k]nowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to his conduct or to circums......
  • J.M.W. v. T.I.Z. (In re Baby E.Z.)
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • September 19, 2011
    ...marks omitted). Further, we assume the legislative body “used each term advisedly and in accordance with its ordinary meaning.” State v. Jeffs, 2010 UT 49, ¶ 31, 243 P.3d 1250 (internal quotation marks omitted). Unless we find ambiguity in a statute, we do not look to legislative history or......
  • State v. Clark
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • August 25, 2014
    ...cruelty to animals counts. “Claims of erroneous jury instructions present questions of law that we review for correctness.” State v. Jeffs, 2010 UT 49, ¶ 16, 243 P.3d 1250. We therefore review “the instructions given to the jury without deference to the trial court.” Id. ¶ 13 Finally, Defen......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Why Two in One Flesh? the Western Case for Monogamy Over Polygamy
    • United States
    • Emory University School of Law Emory Law Journal No. 64-6, 2015
    • Invalid date
    ...FLDS community. The case was reversed, however, and remanded for a new trial because of erroneous jury instructions. State v. Jeffs, 243 P.3d 1250, 1260 (Utah 2010); see also Stephen Singular, When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought B......
  • The Loadstone Rock: the Role of Harm in the Criminalization of Plural Unions
    • United States
    • Emory University School of Law Emory Law Journal No. 64-6, 2015
    • Invalid date
    ...(West 2004), invalidated in part by Brown v. Buhman, 947 F. Supp. 2d 1170 (D. Utah 2013).73. Id.74. See, e.g., State v. Jeffs, 243 P.3d 1250 (Utah 2010); State v. Green, 99 P.3d 820 (Utah 2004).75. Complaint, supra note 68, para. 21.76. Steven Nelson, "Sister Wives" Defeat Polygamy Law in F......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT