TODAY

TODAY   |  September 13, 2013

One woman’s 7-year ordeal in a polygamist sect

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist sect, forced Rebecca Musser, then 19, into an arranged marriage to an 85-year old man. NBC’s Keith Morrison reports.

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>>> with the case that grabbed national attention. rebecca is speaking out about being born into a polygamist sect. what made her leave and her fight for justice. she tells her story in the new book the witness wore red. here's keith morrison with the story.

>> reporter: it's called short crick, the two towns along the utah, arizona border. full of the flds where polygamy is practiced. this is the life rebecca was born.

>> you should want to be a pure wife because it was more holy.

>> she was chosen for a high honor. she was the 19th wife of the prophet which to her was no honor at all.

>> i didn't want to marry him. he was 85 and i was 19.

>> there was another one in her life, his son warren. and when word got out she refused to cater to his sexual demands a war was threatened. he said don't you ever, ever, ever tell your husband no again. if you do, you will be destroyed in the flesh.

>> and when the profit died and warren jeffs took over the church, rebellious rebecca was in deep trouble .

>> he pointed his finger and me and he said i will break you.

>> reporter: she fled from the community and the church then, but really, the war had just begun. as rebecca adjusted to life on the outside, many members of her huge polygamist family remained loyal to warren jeffs and they and hundreds of members moved to texas where they built a brand new community called the yearning for zion ranch . one day in march 2008 , rangers raided the ranch on a strength of a calling claiming to be an abused 16-year-old. not an easy assignment.

>> it was a very confusing situation. most of these ladies dressed a like. they sounded alike. their hair was fixed the same and there was only about four or five very common names on the ranch. so it was very difficult, as you might imagine to differentiate who belongs to who and who is who.

>> reporter: so they recruited rebecca to help make sense of it all. they took her inside the sacred flds temple where they found something strange. two beds. from her time in the flds rebecca knew immediately these must have been used to perform holy ordinances.

>> where we would be taught the correct way to conceive a child t laws of creation.

>> reporter: sure enough, deep in the ranch's walls they found a recording. now it all made sense. rebecca confirmed that it was warren jeffs himself performing the ordinance, in other words, having sex with a 12-year-old girl.

>> not only had warren been the pr pr prepatrator and predator on these young girls but he had taken the thought, the idea and called it holy.

>> reporter: he was arrested and charged with two counts of sexual assault . in 2011 he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison , thanks in large part to rebecca 's testimony.

>> i didn't set out to break him. i think he broke himself. but he most certainly did not break me.

>> reporter: for today, keith morrison , nbc news.

>>> it's a powerful story. if you want to see more of it you can watch a special 2 hour date line tonight at 9:00, 8 central time and read an interpr interpret on today.com. still