SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah judge has refused to dismiss a rape charge against a man whose 2001 spiritual marriage to an underage girl was the basis for the state's criminal prosecution of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.
In a ruling made public Wednesday, Fifth District Court Judge G. Rand Beacham said defendant Allen Glade Steed has not proved that a decision by prosecutors to delay filing the case prevents him from getting a fair trial.
Steed, 29, was charged with rape in September 2007, one day after a jury convicted Jeffs of two counts of rape as an accomplice and six years after the alleged crime.
Steed's attorneys sought a dismissal in October, after the Utah Supreme Court overturned Jeffs' convictions in July.
Beacham said Steed had no legal right to be charged at the same time prosecutors brought charges against Jeffs in 2006.
"While I have previously thought it to be somewhat unique for Warren Jeffs to have been convicted of rape as an accomplice when no one had been convicted of the rape, I think Mr. Jeffs would have had a stronger argument to insist on being tried second," Beacham wrote.
Steed is a member of Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Steed was 19 when church leaders arranged his 2001 marriage to his then-14-year-old cousin, Elissa Wall.
Washington County prosecutors later used the marriage as the basis for filing criminal charges of rape as an accomplice against Jeffs.
During the 2007 trial, Wall said she objected to the marriage and was forced into sex.
The Associated Press does not generally identify people who say they were sexually assaulted, but Wall has spoken publicly and published a nationally distributed book about her life in the church and the case.
Steed testified on Jeffs' behalf at the trial, saying his sexual relationship with Wall was never forced. The couple's marriage ended in a church divorce, known as a release, in 2004 after Wall became pregnant with another man's child.
In court papers, Steed's attorneys said the delay in filing the case and a confidentiality agreement between Washington County prosecutors and Wall were used to gain a tactical advantage over him.
Beacham disagreed, saying the agreement appears to have been a necessary element of the Jeffs case because alleged criminal activity within the church community has historically been impossible to investigate due to the reluctance or refusal of witnesses to testify.
Beacham said he agreed that media coverage of the Jeffs case was "ridiculously over-blown," but he rejected the contention that the effect of that publicity has been to taint a potential jury pool and prevent Steed from receiving a fair trial.
"His argument is based on pure speculation," the judge said.
Beacham has rejected previous petitions for dismissal in the case. A hearing in the case is set for Feb. 17 in St. George.
Utah prosecutors have not decided whether they will retry Jeffs.
The 55-year-old church leader has been transferred to Texas where he is facing trials on charges of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and bigamy. The charges stem from incidents involving underage girls at a church ranch in Eldorado, Texas.
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