ST. GEORGE — A Utah judge has ordered imprisoned FLDS polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, as well as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints itself, to pay a former child bride $16 million in general and punitive damages after Jeffs reportedly forced her to marry an adult church member when she was 14 years old.
Concluding a case first filed in Washington County in 2005, 3rd District Judge Keith Kelly awarded Elissa Wall $4 million in damages and $12 million in punitive damages Tuesday in the lawsuit she filed against the self-proclaimed prophet of the FLDS church.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Wall said the following:
The judgment handed down by the Court is a big step forward in the fight for a strong and unmovable statement to the world that no one, especially children, can be sexually exploited and abused in the name of religion. Today is a victory for many thousands of victims of abuse. Many of us have stood up in our own way to fight for justice and further the protection of children.
Neither Jeffs nor the FLDS church obtained a lawyer or defended themselves against Wall’s lawsuit, which claimed that she had been forced to marry her 19-year-old cousin, Allen Steed, when she was 14 years old, according to court documents. She was then required by Jeffs and the FLDS church to fulfill her religious duties by having sex with her husband and “to produce children.” Wall went on to have miscarriages and a stillbirth.
Judge Kelly wrote that Jeffs had exercised “absolute control, power and authority” over Wall’s life “so that he could require her, as a young girl, to enter into an unlawful spiritual marriage. … The conduct of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church, as alleged herein, was outrageous and intolerable in that it offended the generally accepted standards of decency and morality.”
Jeffs was convicted in 2007 as an accomplice to rape for presiding over the illegal marriage, but the case was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court in 2010 in a ruling that improper instructions were given to the jury during his prosecution.
Steed pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony count of solemnization of a prohibited marriage and pleaded no contest to to a third-degree felony count of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. He received 30 days in jail and three years of probation as part of a plea deal.
Wall has spoken publicly and written a book about her experiences entitled “Stolen Innocence.”
Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence plus 20 years in a Texas prison after being convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.
According to court documents, as of two years ago, the polygamist group’s communal property trust was worth more than $110 million.
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