ST. GEORGE, Utah — A judge sentenced a polygamous sect leader Tuesday to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison for his role in the arranged marriage of teenage cousins.
It will be up to the Utah parole board to decide how long he actually stays behind bars.
Warren Jeffs, 51, was convicted of two counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the marriage of a 14-year-old follower and her 19-year-old cousin in 2001.
Jeffs’ attorney, Wally Bugden, asked the judge for concurrent sentences but lost the argument.
“This was all about religion,” Bugden said outside court. “The foundation of this case was the prosecution of Mr. Jeffs because of placement marriages.”
Jeffs is head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members practice polygamy in arranged marriages that have often involved placing young girls with older men. Most FLDS members live in the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Washington County prosecutors said Jeffs enticed Elissa Wall into marriage and sex against her will by telling her that the relationship was commanded by God and that any refusal would place her salvation at risk.
Jurors said Wall’s age was a major factor in their decision. Under Utah law, a 14-year-old can consent to sex in some circumstances. But it is not considered consensual if a person younger than 18 is enticed by someone at least three years older.
Wall, now 21, testified that Jeffs failed to help her when she protested the marriage and when she later asked for a divorce because she was uncomfortable having sex with Allen Steed.
Steed, now 26, told a different version of events. He said Wall initiated sex and denied that she had cried during their wedding ceremony.
Wall was granted an FLDS divorce by Jeffs after she became pregnant with another man’s child; she left the faith and is married.
The Utah parole board’s first opportunity to review Jeffs’ case comes in 2010, although it could decide to wait longer. And when his case does comes up, the board will deal only with the first sentence, said Jim Hatch, a state parole board spokesman.