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Cross-Examination Begins in Warren Jeffs Trial

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Defense attorneys yesterday questioned the prosecution's star witness in the trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs. Jeffs faces life in prison if convicted of charges of accomplice to rape in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

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WADE GOODWYN: For three days the young woman and former follower of Warren Jeffs has given emotional testimony about how Jeffs bullied her into marrying her first cousin against her will. Yesterday, Jeffs' defense team got a chance to undo some of the damage he'd done.

The first thrust by defense lawyer Tara Isaacson was to force the young woman to admit that although she's claiming rape now, she didn't use that word back when she was 14 years old.

Ms. TARA ISAACSON (Defense Lawyer): Isn't it true that you never told your mother that you were being raped? You told the police that you partially blame your mother for your marriage.

Unidentified Woman (Witness): Yes, I do.

Ms. ISAACSON: You didn't tell your friends, I'm being raped, is that right?

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Unidentified Woman: Who likes to tell anyone they're being raped?

Ms. ISAACSON: Okay. I'm just asking a question.

GOODWYN: Defense lawyers also produced pictures from the honeymoon that showed the girl and her cousin smiling. The young woman had testified extensively about her fierce resistance to the arranged marriage, but Isaacson tried to punch a few holes in her story anyway by pointing to her smiling face in the honeymoon picture.

Ms. ISAACSON: That was all fake, is that right? That smile wasn't real.

Unidentified Woman: Ms. Isaacson, I was on a honeymoon after I had been married to my first cousin at 14 years of age. So you ask me, am I smiling? Yes, I am smiling. Is that how I felt inside? Absolutely not.

GOODWYN: The next two witnesses were sisters of the young woman. They testified about Jeffs' enormous power over the members of the church. This speaks to the accusation that what happened to the 14-year-old follower constituted rape.

In the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it's taught that wives must be completely obedient to their husbands. But how just obedient is completely obedient? Could they say no to their husband if he demanded sex?

Rebecca Musser, the alleged victim's sister, described a conversation with Warren Jeffs in which he instructed her on that exact point.

Ms. REBECCA MUSSER (Witness): He would tell me that under no circumstances do you ever, ever, ever tell your husband no. A wife's duty is to comfort her husband, and if she did not, she would be destroyed in the flesh.

GOODWYN: Musser is a 27-year-old, striking young woman who'd been married to Warren Jeffs' 86-year-old father when she was 19. When Jeffs' father died, Musser testified he wanted the newly widowed beauty for himself. But defiance of the prophet seems to run in this family, and she told Jeffs she wouldn't marry him or any other man he picked out. She testified Jeffs was furious with her defiance and singled her out in a group meeting.

Ms. MUSSER: And he pointed his finger directly at me, and I quote, said I will break you and I will train you to be a good wife. And regardless of who you marry - it doesn't have to be me - I will always have jurisdiction over you.

GOODWYN: Throughout this important day of testimony, defense lawyers provided Warren Jeffs with aggressive and adept cross-examination of the prosecution's key witnesses. But by the end, it was hard to tell who'd sustained the most damage - the former members of the FLDS or their client, the prophet.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, St. George, Utah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.