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Victim in Jeffs case: 'This is not the end'

By the CNN Wire Staff
Elissa Wall, pictured in 2007, allegedly was forced at age 14 into a marriage with her 19-year-old cousin.
Elissa Wall, pictured in 2007, allegedly was forced at age 14 into a marriage with her 19-year-old cousin.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Elissa Wall says she "wouldn't change a thing"
  • Warren Jeffs' Utah convictions thrown out by state Supreme Court
  • Report: Texas launches new efforts to extradite Jeffs
  • Feds say they will take Jeffs into custody if he is freed on state charges

(CNN) -- A woman who claims polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs forced her as a 14-year-old to marry her 19-year-old cousin said she is not giving up, despite the Utah Supreme Court's overturning Jeffs' convictions and ordering a new trial.

"This is not the end, and I by no means am backing down," Elissa Wall said after the ruling at a news conference, portions of which were posted on the website of CNN affiliate KSL-TV.

Jeffs, the "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS, was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life after he was convicted on two counts of rape as an accomplice in September 2007. He was accused of using his influence to force Wall to marry her cousin Allen Steed in 2001.

The Utah Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the jury instructions in Jeffs' 2007 trial were flawed.

The first count of rape as an accomplice against Jeffs was alleged to have occurred shortly after Wall and Steed were married, when the two first had sex, the Utah Supreme Court opinion said. The second was alleged to have occurred after Jeffs refused to "release" Wall from her marriage and told her to "give herself to [Steed] ... mind, body and soul."

Prosecutors relied on three separate portions of the law defining the circumstances under which sex is non-consensual, the opinion said. Under those portions, the victim must express a lack of consent through words or conduct, the victim must be younger than 18, and "the actor" must be in a position of special trust in relation to the victim.

"Jeffs argues that the instruction erroneously focused the jury on Jeffs' actions and position of special trust, rather than on Steed's, for the purpose of determining whether Wall consented," the opinion said.

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The justices agreed, saying in the unanimous ruling that the jurors should have been asked to consider whether Steed was in a position of special trust and whether Steed lured or induced Wall into having sex.

"The state interprets the term 'actor' to mean the 'defendant,' " the opinion said. "We conclude that the state's interpretation is erroneous."

Also, the jurors should have been instructed that in order to convict, they must find that Jeffs intended that Steed would sexually assault Wall as a result of his conduct.

Wall told "In Session" on Tuesday night that she was in "disbelief" after hearing that the convictions were overturned.

"What I know is this: I would never have married my first husband unless Warren wanted it," she said. "I would never had had unwanted sex with my first husband unless Warren demanded it. The jury understood that."

She told KSL-TV that she has no regrets about her testimony in the case.

"If I had to do this again, I wouldn't change a thing, because I stood up for what I believe in," Wall said Tuesday.

She is now 24 and has remarried and left the FLDS. Her attorneys made her name public after the Jeffs trial, with her consent. According to KSL, she is in a witness protection program. She said she feared retribution for her testimony against Jeffs.

"He controlled thousands of people in fear for many, many years," she said, and "many abominable sins and many things ... have occurred to thousands of people because of his influence."

The justices sent the case back to the lower court for a new trial. Defense attorney Wally Bugden said Tuesday that he expects the Washington County, Utah, district attorney to decide quickly on whether Jeffs will be retried.

Brian Filter, senior deputy attorney for Washington County, said Wednesday that the district attorney's office is still analyzing the Supreme Court's ruling and consulting with the victim and others involved in the case before deciding to retry Jeffs.

Jeffs will be transferred, however, from the Utah State Prison just south of Salt Lake City to Washington County in southern Utah -- closer to the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, Bugden said.

Bugden said Tuesday that he will be requesting bail for Jeffs when a hearing is held in the lower court. But Jeffs remains under federal indictment for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in 2006.

Federal detainers remain in place, said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Utah. If Jeffs is not held on state charges, he will be taken into federal custody, she said.

However, Jeffs' biggest legal challenge still awaits him. He is awaiting trial in Texas, where he was indicted in 2008 on a felony charge of sexual assault of a child. The indictment accuses him of assaulting a child "younger than 17 years of age and not legally married to the defendant" in January 2005. If convicted on those charges, he could face a maximum penalty of five to 99 years or life in prison.

An extradition hearing on the Texas matter was canceled Tuesday after the Utah Supreme Court ruling. But the Texas attorney general's office began new proceedings Wednesday to extradite Jeffs, spokesman Jerry Strickland told The Dallas Morning News.

Jeffs had been awaiting trial in Arizona on four charges of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor. But last month, a judge dismissed those charges. The Mohave County, Arizona, prosecutor, had asked the court to throw out the charges, citing "much more serious charges" against Jeffs in Texas and the desire of his alleged victims that he "face these more serious charges as soon as possible."

The FLDS drew national attention when Jeffs was arrested during a routine traffic stop in August 2006. At the time, he was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

The FLDS is a 10,000-member offshoot of the mainstream Mormon church, which renounced polygamy a century ago. FLDS members openly practice polygamy at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado,Texas, and the two towns straddling the Utah-Arizona state line.

Critics of the sect say young girls are forced into "spiritual" marriages with older men and are sexually abused. Sect members have denied that any sexual abuse takes place. Jeffs had led the sect since his father's death in 2002.

CNN's Ashley Hayes and "In Session's" Beth Karas contributed to this report.