(CN) – Polygamist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs’ convictions were reversed Tuesday by the Utah Supreme Court after finding that jury instructions were given in error.
Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted in 2007 of two counts of first-degree felony rape for his role in the 2001 wedding of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin.
He is serving two terms in Utah State Prison. He also faces criminal charges of sexual assault and bigamy in Texas.
“While we are unconvinced by the majority of Jeffs’ arguments, we conclude that there were serious errors in the instructions given to the jury that deprived Jeffs of the fair trial to which all are entitled under our laws,” Justice Jill Parrish wrote.
Specifically, Jeffs had argued that the instructions improperly focused on his actions for determining whether sex between the cousins was consensual. He said the focus should have been on the 19-year-old’s actions.
He also claimed that jurors should have been told that, in order to convict Jeffs as an accomplice to rape, they had to find that he had “intended that the result of his conduct” would be rape.
“We regret the effect our opinion today may have on the victim of the underlying crime, to whom we do not wish to cause additional pain,” Parrish wrote. “However, we must ensure that the laws are applied evenly and appropriately, in this case as in every case, in order to protect the constitutional principles on which our legal system is based. We must guarantee justice, not just for this defendant, but for all who may be accused of a crime and subjected to the State’s power to deprive them of life, liberty, or property hereafter.”