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Polygamist leader's accuser was 14 when forced to marry first cousin


The woman at the center of a criminal case involving polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was 14 when forced into a marriage with her first cousin, a source close to the case said Friday.

At Jeffs' direction, she was married despite her objections in 2001 to the cousin, who was older than 18, the source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to protect the woman's identity.

The marriage was not polygamous, the source said.

"It was child abuse, plain and simple," the source.

Jeffs, 50, is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a southern Utah-based church. The sect broke away from the Mormon church more than a century ago and has been disavowed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Washington County prosecutors charged Jeffs in April with two first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his suspected role in the marriage. A fugitive for nearly two years, Jeffs was arrested in August during a traffic stop near Las Vegas. If convicted on both charges, he could face up to life in prison.

Washington County prosecutor Brock Belnap has said the case was about child abuse and not an attack on polygamy, which is practiced by the FLDS church. Jeffs' defense attorney, Walter Bugden, said after a September court hearing that his client contends the case is one of religious persecution.

No charges have been filed against the woman's husband, although Belnap has said he has not ruled out filing additional charges related to the Jeffs case.

Jeffs is facing Arizona charges similar to those in Utah.

Telephone messages left at Belnap's office and home on Friday by the AP were not immediately returned.

Jeffs' accuser has sued the FLDS church seeking unspecified damages, said Salt Lake City attorney Roger Hoole, who said he represents her.

Court documents allege the woman told Jeffs before the religious ceremony that she was too young to marry. Later she said she disliked engaging in marital relations, court papers said.

Prosecutors contend Jeffs told her that it was her religious duty to marry and that her eternal salvation was at risk if she refused.