SALT LAKE CITY — A judge has ordered polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and his Utah-based church to pay a former child bride millions in a lawsuit.
In a ruling handed down Tuesday and obtained by FOX 13, Elissa Wall was awarded more than $16 million in damages stemming from her marriage at age 14 to her cousin back in 2001 in a ceremony presided over by Jeffs.
“The judgment handed down by the Court is a big step forward in the fight for a strong and unmovable statement to the world that no one, especially children, can be sexually exploited and abused in the name of religion,” Wall said in a statement to FOX 13. “The message sent by this judgment of justice and accountability will hopefully be heard as a loud and clear warning to anyone who would choose to act in the same manner as that of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church.”
Wall called it a victory for “thousands of victims of abuse,” but said she can now “focus on building a better future for myself and my children.”
“I will never give up advocating for the voiceless and working tireless to assist in rebuilding the lives of those recovering from any kind of abuse in the name of religion,” she said.
In the ruling, 3rd District Court Judge Keith Kelly was blunt in his determination of what happened to Wall.
“Warren Jeffs exercised this absolute control, power and authority over (Wall’s) life so that he could require her, as a young girl, to enter into an unlawful spiritual marriage,” he wrote.
Wall was the star witness in Utah’s criminal prosecution of Jeffs. His conviction of rape as an accomplice was overturned by the state supreme court. He is currently serving a life sentence in Texas for child sex assault related to underage “marriages.”
“The conduct of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church was so extreme that it went beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society,” Judge Kelly wrote.
Wall sued Jeffs more than a decade ago over the marriage seeking as much as $40 million at one point in her personal injury lawsuit. Jeffs and the FLDS Church refused to respond to the lawsuit and Judge Kelly found them in default.
The judgment will allow her to pursue the church and its various interests across the country to collect. The judge wrote that he estimated Jeffs, the Hildale-based FLDS Church and its real-estate arm, the United Effort Plan Trust, to have assets of more than $110 million (Wall settled with the court-controlled UEP previously).
Judge Kelly awarded Wall $4 million in damages, and another $12 million in punitive damages.
“Elissa Wall is one of the very few who is willing to continue to hold the FLDS Church and its fallen leader Warren Jeffs accountable for its practices of Church sanctioned underage rape. She is a hero for her perseverance,” Wall’s attorney, Alan Mortensen, told FOX 13.
“This judgment, based upon substantial evidence, is one further step to hold the FLDS Church and Warren Jeffs accountable for its past conduct relating to innocent minor girls and in deterring any future aberrant behaviors.”
Read the judge’s default finding against Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church here: