Witness breaks down recalling polygamy sect wedding

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ST. GEORGE, Utah, Sep 15 (Reuters) A young woman broke down in tears in a Utah courtroom as she recounted feeling trapped and overwhelmed about a marriage arranged by a polygamous sect when she was 14.

The woman, now 21, testified yesterday that she had never been kissed or had a boyfriend before the 2001 wedding to her 19-year-old cousin and had locked herself in the bathroom after the ceremony.

The wedding was presided over by Warren Jeffs, 51, the leader and self-described ''prophet'' of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, a breakaway Mormon sect that practices polygamy.

Jeffs is on trial on two counts of being an accomplice to rape, a charge he denies.

Asked how she felt during the wedding ceremony in a Nevada hotel, the woman replied: ''Trapped. Extremely overwhelmed.

Immense amounts of pressure -- lots of pressure. So scared and upset.'' The witness, who cannot be identified, broke down in tears soon after and a short court recess was called.

Jeffs -- who faces between five years to life in prison for each charge -- has not been charged with polygamy, but the case has focused attention on the practice and his secretive, conservative sect, whose approximately 7,500 members live in an isolated desert enclave at the Utah-Arizona border.

The early Mormon church once embraced polygamy, but officially rejected it in 1890. Although polygamy is illegal in Utah, 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.

The sect believes Jeffs is a prophet whose power comes directly from God. Marriages are arranged after a ''revelation'' by him and women wear the long braids and dresses worn a century ago.

The accuser has said she lived with her mother, stepfather and about 15 of his other wives and 30 other children.

The case has raised such passions that Jeffs is wearing a bulletproof vest to court underneath his suit.

''GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY'' The woman testified she was horrified after Jeffs told the couple they were to ''go forth and multiply.'' She said she did not know how babies were made, but testified she did not want to be anywhere near her husband, whom she did not like.

She described locking herself in the bathroom after the ceremony, which took place in a Nevada hotel room.

''I crumpled on the floor. I was so overwhelmed and I just started to sob,'' she testified.

The marriage was not consummated that night, but during the honeymoon, her husband began kissing and touching her in places she did not like.

The prosecution showed photographs of her husband with his arms wrapped around her, with one of her hands up between their two bodies. Another showed her sitting in his lap with his arm around her shoulder and hand between her breasts.

The woman said she felt ''traumatized'' after her husband exposed himself to her in a park. Later that night, he began to undress her, telling her that this is what married people did.

''I was begging him to please stop or just tell me what he was doing,'' she said.

Jeffs' attorneys have said that the case is one of religious persecution and have questioned how Jeffs would have known that rape was being committed behind bedroom doors.

Under Utah law, a person 14 or older can consent to sexual intercourse.

REUTERS PJ RN0928

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