SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - The Utah Supreme Court reversed the conviction of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and ordered a new trial on Tuesday.
The Court's ruling to reverse the conviction centered around jury instructions given during the 2007 trial. The Court ruled that the jury was instructed to rule on Jeffs' liability and lack of consent by Elissa Wall, the child bride married to her cousin by Jeffs. The ruling also reasoned that the jury's instructions regarding Jeff's "Intention" to aid in the rape of Wall was erroneous.
In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that:
"Because we hold that the trial court’s instructions to the jury regarding lack of consent were in error, we reverse Jeffs’ two convictions of rape as an accomplice and remand for a new trial."
Jeffs was convicted in 2007 on two counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 arranged marriage of Elissa Wall, who was 14 at the time she was married to her 19-year-old cousin Allen Steed. The marriage was arranged by Warren Jeffs, who was the leader of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time.
After leaving the FLDS church, Wall's case was turned over to prosecutors and Jeffs went into hiding. He was arrested in Nevada in August of 2006 during a traffic stop on Interstate 15.
In their ruling, the Utah Supreme Court also addressed Elissa Wall, saying,
"We regret the effect our opinion today may have on the victim of the underlying crime, to whom we do not wish to cause additional pain. However, we must ensure that the laws are applied evenly and appropriately, in this case as in every case, in order to protect the constitutional principles on which our legal system is based. We must guarantee justice, not just for this defendant, but for all who may be accused of a crime and subjected to the State’s power to deprive them of life, liberty, or property hereafter."
Jeffs was also facing extradition to Texas, where he faces charges similar to the case in his Utah conviction, but based on the Court's Tuesday ruling, the extradition hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. was canceled. A court spokesperson said the extradition paperwork that was filed by the state of Texas is no longer applicable and a new hearing would not be scheduled.
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