Court won't dismiss breakaway Mormon 'prophet' case

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ST. GEORGE, Utah, Sep 18 (Reuters) A Utah judge rejected a motion to dismiss charges against a self-described ''prophet'' of a breakaway Mormon sect that practices polygamy after prosecutors rested their case unexpectedly early today.

Warren Jeffs, 51, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is on trial on two counts of being an accomplice to rape after he presided over a wedding of a 14-year-old girl.

Since the start of testimony on Thursday, the court heard from the woman who said she wanted to die after being forced into sex at age 14 in the arranged marriage. The woman said she begged her husband not to touch her as he undressed her one night soon after their wedding.

When asked by a defense lawyer on Monday why she was smiling in a honeymoon photo, she said she was scared and under pressure.

''Am I smiling -- yes. Is that how I felt inside? Absolutely not,'' said the victim, now 21, whose identity has been withheld because of the nature of the alleged crime.

Two of the young woman's sisters have also testified -- one of whom was a wife of Jeffs' father when he was 86 and she was 19. One called her sibling ''just a terrified little girl.'' The prosecution closed their case on Tuesday by playing an audio tape of a church activist expressing concern about the growing focus by authorities on the activities of the breakaway church.

''They accuse us of lewd and lascivious behavior and that we enter marriage to exploit young women for the physical urges of our bodies,'' Sam Barlow, a former assistant town marshal in Colorado City, Arizona, was heard telling a meeting of his church. ''We're trying to be careful because we are not talking about a civil lawsuit like a decade ago. We are talking about criminal conduct by the stature.'' After prosecutors set aside a long list of potential subsequent witnesses and rested their case, Jeffs' defense argued that the state had not proved the case and the charges should be dismissed.

District Judge James Shumate in St George, Utah 120 miles (192 kms) northeast of Las Vegas, overruled the motion and the case was to continue.

Jeffs is not charged with polygamy but the trial has focused attention on the practice and his secretive sect, whose approximately 7,500 members live in an isolated enclave on the Utah-Arizona border.

His attorneys say he is facing religious persecution and have questioned how Jeffs would have known that rape was being committed behind bedroom doors.

REUTERS SR BD0001

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