St. George, Utah -- A police officer accused of bigamy and illegal sex with a girl he took as a third wife when she was just 16 was convicted by a jury Thursday.
Jurors ruled that Rodney Holm, an officer in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., broke Utah law banning sexual relations involving 16- and 17-year-olds when their partner is 10 or more years older, unless the couple is legally married.
Holm, 37, was accused of having sex with Ruth Stubbs when she was 16. He was 32 when he allegedly took Stubbs as a "spiritual" wife, which is not a legally recognized union.
He faces up to five years in prison on each count.
Holm has 21 children with his three wives, and is a certified officer in both Hildale and Colorado City, where most of the towns' residents are members of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Holm and his defenders have argued that Utah is selectively prosecuting polygamists for their beliefs.
Polygamy was a part of early belief of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but was abandoned more than a century ago as the territory sought statehood. The Utah Constitution bans it and the Mormon church now excommunicates those who advocate it, but it is believed that tens of thousands in Utah continue the practice.
Holm's attorneys have also cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling which overturned sodomy laws in several states, including Utah.
But prosecutors say the Texas case is irrelevant because it dealt with sex between consenting adults, not sex with a minor. Prosecutors also said that even if the bigamy case was dropped based on the Texas precedent, the charges for unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old could go forward.
Jurors took just two hours to reach guilty verdicts against Holm on one count of bigamy and two counts of unlawful sexual conduct.
In closing arguments earlier Thursday, Holm's defense attorney, Rod Parker, urged jurors to consider Holm's "cultural heritage" and the jurors' own family histories.
"If the federal government hadn't forced it to do so, the LDS church would not have given up this practice," Parker said, noting many in the jury--pulled from Mormon-dominated Washington County _ might have family histories that include polygamy.
"We don't see our ancestors as being immoral or wrong ... we see those ancestors as being subject to religious persecution," Parker said.
"God's law, that's what (Holm) follows. That's his culture."
Parker also said the prosecution failed to prove that two of three children Stubbs had with Holm were conceived in Utah, which the state used to help build its unlawful sex claim. Without such proof, the Utah court has no jurisdiction, Parker said.
But assistant state attorney general Kristine Knowlton insisted the children were conceived in Utah, and that their Utah birth certificates confirm that. Knowlton also said a marriage certificate for Holm and Stubbs' sister, Suzie, proves that he was legally married and therefore committed bigamy when he married Ruth Stubbs and then lived with her in Hildale.
She said Holm was being prosecuted "for the acts he committed, not for his religious beliefs."