SALT LAKE CITY -- Attorneys for imprisoned polygamous church leader Warren Jeffs on Tuesday argued before the Utah Supreme Court that his 2007 criminal conviction should be overturned.
Jeffs, who is the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted of two counts of first-degree felony rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 arranged marriage of then-14-year-old follower, Elissa Wall, to her 19-year-old cousin, Allen Steed.
Arguing before Utah's high court, defense attorney Walter Bugden said Washington County prosecutors should have charged Jeffs with performing an illegal marriage, but instead mixed and matched the definitions of several legal concepts to hold Jeffs criminally liable because he was an "unpopular religious figure."
Wall voiced objections about the marriage to both her family and Rulon Jeffs, Warren Jeffs' father who was the church's prophet in 2001.
The Associated Press does not typically name victims of alleged sexual assault, but Wall has spoken publicly about the case and published a memoir, "Stolen Innocence," detailing her life leading up to the trial.
Warren Jeffs did not arrange the marriage, but performed the couple's wedding ceremony at a motel in Caliente, Nev., despite knowing of the girl's objection, Assistant Utah Attorney General Laura Dupaix said Tuesday.
He later counseled the young bride to be obedient and to give herself "mind, body and soul" to the marriage.
"Under Utah law, that makes Warren Jeffs an accomplice to rape," Assistant Utah Attorney General Laura Dupaix told Utah's high court in arguments Tuesday.
State law prevents a 14-year-old from consenting to sex with individuals who hold positions of special authority or trust. As a senior leader of the FLDS church, Jeffs not only held such trust, but was a "mastermind" who controlled every aspect of life for Wall and other FLDS members, Dupaix said.
Among the decisions that Jeffs made for the girl was "when and whom she had to marry, and by virtue of that he decided when she was forbidden and when she was required to have sex," Dupaix said.
Bugden doesn't dispute that Jeffs held a position of special trust, but said Utah's rape statute should have dictated a different focus for the case.
Jeffs' attorney said after the hearing that "under the rape statute, he's the wrong person to be focused on."
"You have to look at what the elements of the crime are and the elements require the focus to be on Mr. Steed and whether Mr. Allen Steed was having nonconsensual sex with Elissa Wall," Bugden said.
Washington County prosecutors charged Steed with one count of rape in September 2007 -- the day after a jury convicted Jeffs -- but the case has dragged. Steed has never been convicted.