Statute of limitations prevents prosecution in FLDS marriages

Posted at 5:42 PM, Dec 07, 2012

ST. GEORGE, Utah -- On the spreadsheet are hundreds of names of people involved in illegal marriages within the polygamous Fundamentalist LDS Church, stretching back nearly 20 years.

In all of them, polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was involved -- either as a witness, the man who performed the marriage, or the groom himself.

Texas prosecutors, who compiled the spreadsheet, called it State's Exhibit 992. They used it against Jeffs in his child sex abuse trial there. It was based on billions of pages of church records seized in the 2008 raid on the FLDS Church's Yearning For Zion Ranch. The marriages are all illegal in some fashion: prosecutors allege some of the marriages either involved underage girls or were polygamous unions.

In a special report on State's Exhibit 992 last year, FOX 13 took the document to Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap. He, in turn, had the Washington County Sheriff's Office examine it.

They found evidence of crimes, he said, ranging from felonies to misdemeanors. However, they could do nothing about it now.

"The marriages from exhibit 992 were all outside the statute of limitations, from what we were able to glean based on their ages," Belnap told FOX 13.

Under Utah law, the statute of limitations for some sex crimes ranges from four to eight years, depending on when it was reported. In many of these cases, they were never reported at all -- it was based on church records seized by law enforcement.

"It's a topic that every prosecutor who is prosecuting these crimes has to deal with," said Elissa Wall, who was married at age 14 to her 19-year-old cousin by Jeffs.

Wall was the star witness in Washington County's case against Jeffs, which was later overturned by the Utah Supreme Court. Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence in Texas for child sex assault.

In a recent interview with FOX 13, Wall said she sympathizes with prosecutors -- whose hands are tied. She said it may be time for prosecutors to change the law.

"It's absolutely frustrating," Wall said. "It's frustrating because once again, the precedence is not being set for future generations. There always has to be a cut-off on something, I realize that. But I believe the statute of limitations is something that needs to be addressed here in Utah."

Photos: Warren Jeffs and brides