Polygamist Leader's Rape Conviction Overturned

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs will leave prison to stand trial again, now that his original conviction for serving as an accomplice to rape has been overturned. Is this justice?

In 2007, Jeffs was convicted of serving as an accomplice to rape for arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl (who has now identified herself as Elissa Wall) to her cousin, who repeatedly sexually assaulted her. But Reuters reports that the Utah Supreme Court reversed that conviction today, on the grounds that the judge gave improper instructions to the jury. Basically, judge James Shumate neglected to tell the jurors that they could return a guilty verdict only if they decided Jeffs knew Wall would be raped if married to her cousin. The cousin himself, Allen Steed, has not actually been convicted of rape — says the AP, "the case has languished and it's unclear how it might now proceed."

Jeffs's lawyer Wall Bugden comments, "We said from the very beginning that they chose the wrong crime to prosecute an unpopular religious figure. They attempted to impute criminal liability to an unpopular person." Forcing at least one underage girl into marriage is hardly mere "unpopularity," but it is unclear why the legal system hasn't done a better job of going after the man who actually raped Wall. And while it's understandable that prosecutors should want to target a man reportedly responsible for treating large numbers of women like chattel, failing to follow correct procedure isn't the way to help his victims get the justice they deserve.

Warren Jeffs' Convictions Overturned [AP, via CBS]
Utah Court Reverses Polygamist Leader Convictions [Reuters, via LA Times]