Girl, 14, begged US polygamy leader not to be

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ST GEORGE, Utah, Sep 14 (Reuters) The leader of the largest US polygamist sect who arranged a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin, told the girl it was her religious duty to give herself ''mind, body and soul'' to her husband, a Utah court said.

In opening statements at the trial of Warren Jeffs, 51, prosecutors said the ''prophet'' of the breakaway Mormon clan was an accomplice to two counts of rape after orchestrating a 2001 marriage between the girl and her cousin.

''(The accuser) will testify she got down on her knees and begged -- 'he's my first cousin, I think I'm too young, I don't want to be rebellious but can't we find someone else or postpone it?''' prosecutor Brock Belnap told jurors.

''What Warren Jeffs told her is: 'Your heart is in the wrong place. This is your mission and duty to do','' Belnap added.

The court has requested that the girl not be identified.

Jeffs has pleaded not guilty to two felony charges of being an accomplice to rape. Each charge carries a potential sentence of between five years and life in prison. No charges against the accuser's husband have been filed.

Jeffs was brought to court by helicopter yesterday wearing a bullet proof vest. He sat in court wearing a dark suit and tie and did not acknowledge about 12, mostly male, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, which Jeffs has led since 2002.

The case has galvanized the attention of this small city of golf courses and retirees, and pushed the issue of polygamy into the spotlight -- a practice the early Mormon church once embraced but rejected in 1890.

POWER FROM GOD Although polygamy is illegal in the United States, an estimated 37,000 people in western states subscribe to it. The law is rarely enforced because local authorities say prosecuting so-called ''plural'' marriages is impractical.

Jeffs is not charged with polygamy. Defense attorneys are expected to argue he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs, since polygamy and arranged marriages are seen as the way to salvation within the 7,500-member FLDS.

Defense attorney Tara Isaacson, making her opening statement, questioned what really happened within the relationship and Jeff's knowledge of it.

''Was she really raped? That's the core question?'' Isaacson told the jury. ''What did Warren Jeffs have to do with what was going on in the bedroom? Did he even know she was forced to have sex?'' The FLDS believes its prophet's power comes directly from God and marriages are arranged after a ''revelation'' by him. Women wear the long braids and dresses worn a century ago by the area's pioneers and are instructed to ''keep sweet.'' Family trees are tangled by intermarriage with unions between cousins or between young women and older men common.

Jeffs was arrested in August 2006. He has been described as a controlling leader who warned of the ''wicked'' outside world, exiled those who disagreed with him, and forbade television, the Internet and even after-school sports.

Prosecution witnesses are expected to include the girl, members of her family, exiled male critics of Jeffs and former wives. The defense has listed some 70 people as possible witnesses, most of whom carry the last names of some of the FLDS' most established polygamous family clans.


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