Ex-child bride could get millions in lawsuit against Utah polygamous church

Posted at 3:56 PM, Jul 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-03 22:11:05-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A judge could give millions to a former child bride in her lawsuit against imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist LDS Church.

"I have a lot to deliberate," Third District Court Judge Keith Kelly said at the end of a hearing Monday in Elissa Wall's multi-million dollar lawsuit.

He did not say when he would rule in the case. Wall is seeking as much as $22 million from Jeffs and two corporate entities tied to the FLDS Church.

Wall offered tearful testimony about her marriage at age 14 to her 19-year-old cousin in a ceremony presided over by Jeffs. She spoke about how she begged to not go through with it, but Jeffs and her family forced her to.

Elissa Wall and her then-husband, Allen Steed. Wall is suing over her marriage at age 14 in a ceremony presided by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

"It's had many phases of how it's affected me. As a young 14 year old, I was so innocent, protected and naive. It was a brutal introduction into the world of sexuality. I had no sex education," she said, accusing her then-husband of rape. "It really traumatized my self image at the time. I felt dirty, and broken and worthless for many, many years."

Wall told the judge of the FLDS belief system, and how she ultimately escaped her marriage. She said Jeffs threatened that the only way to be redeemed in the FLDS Church was through "blood atonement," where she would have to give her own life in order to repent.

At Monday's hearing, no one showed up to defend Jeffs or the FLDS Church. He has repeatedly refused to answer the lawsuit. In other depositions obtained by FOX 13, he consistently refuses to answer questions from attorneys.

Wall was the star witness in Utah's prosecution against Jeffs. His conviction was later overturned by the Utah Supreme Court. He is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison after being convicted of child sex assault related to underage "marriages."

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs in a 2014 deposition from the Texas prison where he is serving a life sentence.

Wall sought as much as $40 million in damages at one point. She settled part of her lawsuit with the United Effort Plan Trust, which was taken over by the courts in 2005 amid accusations Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders mismanaged it.

Wall declined to comment to reporters outside of court, but testified that she still believes underage marriages continue within the FLDS Church. Judge Kelly appeared skeptical of that claim, asking what she based it off of.

"As long as they follow Warren, they will not discontinue this practice," she replied.

Wall said in her work as a victim's advocate, she has spoken to people in and out of her former church. She said Jeffs has now designated some men as "seed bearers" who are the only ones who can have children.

Young girls who are of marrying age within the FLDS Church are spirited away out of Hildale and Colorado City, she said.

Judge Kelly said he had viewed a photograph seized in Texas of a "very young girl" in the FLDS Church who appeared to be pregnant.

"It was... very concerning," he said, appearing visibly disturbed by it.

A girl who is believed to be one of Warren Jeffs' wives in a photograph provided to FOX 13. The girl's face has been blurred to protect the identity of any alleged sexual abuse victims.

FOX 13 has previously published a number of photographs provided by a source of Jeffs and a number of young women, presumed to be his wives.

Outside of court, Wall's attorney, Alan Mortensen, was asked if a multi-million dollar judgment would stop any alleged misconduct within the FLDS Church so long as Jeffs remained in charge.

"It can't hurt," he replied.

Speaking to the judge, Wall said she has undergone counseling and has "worked hard to be a survivor."

"I have learned not to be a victim," she said. "But it does not mean the darkness is not in the shadows."

Photos: Warren Jeffs and Wives