The Utah Supreme Court has reversed
the conviction of polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs and sent the case back
for a new trial.
The court, in a unanimous decision,
ruled that the judge made “serious errors” in his instructions to the
jury in the 2007 trial.
the so-called “prophet” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to
life after he was convicted in September 2007. He was accused of using his
religious influence over his followers to coerce a 14-year-old girl into
marrying her 19-year-old cousin
Jeffs’ trial, Elissa Wall testified she repeatedly told him at the time that
she did not want to be married and was uncomfortable with sexual advances from
her husband, Allen Steed. She said Jeffs advised her to pray and submit to her
husband, learn to love him and bear his children, or risk losing her
Prosecutors relied on three
separate portions of the law defining the circumstances under which sex is
non-consensual, the opinion said. Under those portions, the victim must express
a lack of consent through words or conduct; the victim must be younger than 18
years; and “the actor” must be in a position of special trust in
relation to the victim.
“Jeffs argues that the
instruction erroneously focused the jury on Jeffs’ actions and position of special
trust, rather than on Steed’s, for the purpose of determining whether Wall
consented,” the opinion said.
The justices agreed, saying the
jurors should have been asked to consider whether Steed was in a position of
special trust and whether Steed lured or induced Wall into having sex.
The state has 14 days to request a
rehearing with the Utah Supreme Court.
If a request is not made, the case will be
sent back to the trial court within 30 days, and the lower District Court then
has 30 days to schedule a hearing.
Jeffs will remain in jail until the
District Court hearing.
He also faces charges in Texas of
alleged sexual assault of a child and bigamy