Mistrial declared in polygamous trust trespass case

The Salt Lake Tribune/August 31, 2011

An Arizona judge has declared a mistrial in the trespassing case against the accountant appointed to oversee a polygamous sect’s communal property trust.

Bruce Wisan and employee Jethro Barlow are each facing six misdemeanor counts after allegedly telling another employee, Isaac Wyler, to pick the locks on Colorado City, Ariz., homes of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the sect led by Warren Jeffs. Wyler has already been found guilty.

Judge Paul Julien decided there are "legitimate questions" about a one-day bench trial he presided over in February. No new trial date has yet been set, said Wisan and Barlow’s new attorney, Bill Walker of Tuscon. Walker said he plans to ask that the charges be dismissed outright.

If they aren’t, Walker said he plans to appeal.

The homes at issue, along with nearly all the property in the twin towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, are part of the sect’s communal property trust. The state of Utah took over the trust five years ago amid allegations of mismanagement by FLDS trustees. A judge appointed Wisan to run the trust.

Both Wisan and Barlow have pleaded not guilty to the trespassing charges, which were filed about two years ago. Following several delays, Julien decided to go ahead with a trial even though Wisan and Barlow protested they had recently fired their attorney and had yet to find a new one.

The prosecution introduced two FLDS witnesses who testified Wyler had gotten into their homes and changed their locks, along with the transcript of Wyler’s testimony from his own trial, which Wisan and Barlow were not present for. The pair have also asked to admit the testimony of two locksmiths who said the homes appeared empty.

In a ruling issued on July 22, Julien reversed himself and granted Walker’s motion for a mistrial.

Wisan is still the administrator of the trust, but a federal appeals court has barred him from making any major changes to it following a series of legal fireworks sparked by a federal judge’s late February decision that the 2005 state takeover was illegal and it should go back to the sect.

Meanwhile, the trust is millions of dollars in debt, and this month a state court judge ruled that the state of Utah should cover nearly $5 million in unpaid bills to Wisan and others.

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