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Bride Wed at 14 Testifies at Polygamist's Trial

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This may be the most important day in the trial of Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is the largest polygamist sect in the country. He's accused of two counts of rape as an accomplice and he faces up to life in prison if convicted. The case involved an arranged marriage between an allegedly unwilling 14-year-old girl and her older first cousin. That young woman is now 21. And she has been testifying in court that she was coerced into marriage and sex by Warren Jeffs.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn is in the courtroom at St. George and he joins us now. Wade, I understand this morning's testimony was quite emotional, quite dramatic. What happened in the courtroom?

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WADE GOODWYN: Well, the young woman told the story about her arranged marriage to her first cousin and how, in spite of her desperate pleas to her family and to Warren Jeffs, she was forced to marry and have sex with this man. She was 14 at the time. She had no idea how babies were conceived or even what sex was. But what she was certain, though, was that she was too young to be married. She was shocked by the whole idea.

At the time, Rulon Jeffs - that was Warren Jeffs' father - was the FLDS prophet. He'd suffered a serious of strokes. And in a testimony that held the court riveted, she described how she went to the old prophet, got down her knees and pleaded with him to spare her. She didn't want to be married and she had to be married. She didn't want to be married to her first cousin. And to her great relief, Rulon Jeffs patted her on the head and told her to follow her heart. And she thought she'd been saved.

But as Warren Jeffs walked her out, he told her that her heart was in the wrong place, that she needed to repent and that the marriage was going to go forward anyway.

BLOCK: And as we know, that marriage between this young girl and her first cousin did take place.

GOODWYN: Yes, it did. I mean, despite her repeated protests, she was taken in a minivan to a ranch where she was, according to her testimony, forcefully married to her first cousin. And her description of standing in front of Warren Jeffs was really quite dramatic.

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(Soundbite of courtroom testimony)

Unidentified Woman: He turned to me and asked me, do I take Allen(ph)? And I just sat there with my head hanging.

Unidentified Man: Were you crying?

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Unidentified Man: What kind of tears are - were they?

Unidentified Woman: Fear. The room was completely quiet. And I just - I couldn't say anything. I cannot agree to this because he looks at - more he looks at me, and he's repeated himself, do you take Allen? Excuse me. Can we take a break?

BLOCK: Obviously, a very difficult moment there on the courtroom. Wade, how did the jury react to this young woman's testimony?

GOODWYN: Well, it was all pretty sad. The witness wept on the stand for much of the morning while she was describing it all. The jury looked a bit stunned. Certainly, they were affected. One juror, a man, he drew a deep breath through all this and blew it out slowly through pursed lips. The witness' grief on the stand was so raw that it left the court subdued, respectfully subdued.

BLOCK: And Warren Jeffs? His reaction?

GOODWYN: He was composed. Expressionless. Nothing the young woman said affected him in any way I could see.

BLOCK: Wade, is the young woman still on the stand? What happens next?

GOODWYN: After we hear her on direct, then it's going to be the defense's turn to cross-examine her. And it will be their job to try to dismantle her testimony and save their client because this woman's testimony is the heart of the prosecution's case.

BLOCK: Thank you, Wade.

GOODWYN: My pleasure.

BLOCK: That was NPR's Wade Goodwyn, speaking to us from St. George, Utah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.