Polygamy May Bring New Prosecutions

Salt Lake Tribune/June 6, 1999
By Stephen Hunt

The prosecution of polygamist David Ortell Kingston -- convicted last week of having sex with his then 16-year-old niece who claims she was his 15th wife -- raises the question: What next?

Incestuous marriages are common among the polygamous Kingston clan, according to the victim and former clan members.

But should all the offenders be prosecuted? And how should that be accomplished?

"If a proper case is put together and presented to me, we'll prosecute it," Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocom said Friday. But Yocom has no plans to order investigators to probe polygamous incest.

"We've got rape, robbery and murder," he said. "However, if the Legislature said, `Here's some money designated for the purpose,' we could put together some damn good cases. Then you've got to ask society, `Do you really want to spend the money?' "

Carmen Thompson of the anti-polygamy group, Tapestry of Polygamy, said she believes the political will to prosecute polygamists is growing.

In recent months, Thompson said, her group has spearheaded prosecutions of two purported central Utah polygamists after their wives came to Tapestry for help. Tapestry approached Sevier and Millard county prosecutors, who filed bigamy charges.

"We've never done anything like this before," Thompson said. "We're breaking new ground by prosecuting crimes within polygamy, as well as polygamy itself."

Thompson said it is the children living in polygamy who must not be forgotten.

"When children are involved, it is no longer just about two adults having consensual sex," said Thompson. "I've seen the effects of children growing up in polygamy. It's difficult for them to understand there are laws they have to obey -- that you can't just pick and choose. That you have to obey man's laws, not just God's laws."

Tapestry members recently wrote to all city and county prosecutors in the state, challenging them to enforce anti-polygamy laws. Polygamy is forbidden by the state Constitution, but the technical criminal violation is bigamy, a third-degree felony.

"There was discussion last year about putting a task force together to deal with these issues, and it still needs to be done," Thompson said. "Meanwhile, we have gone down into the trenches. We are handling things case by case, as they are brought to our attention. Whether by a victim or a public outcry, we contact prosecutors and push for prosecution."

The Utah Supreme Court has said that prosecuting polygamy is as difficult as prosecuting fornication or adultery. Thompson, however, insists that just because a crime is difficult to prove is no reason not to investigate.

But as the David Kingston trial illustrated, getting a conviction -- even with a willing witness -- is no easy task. The girl had told varying versions of events. And Kingston's first wife, prosecutors said, lied on the witness stand to protect him and to discredit the victim. Charged with three counts of incest and one of unlawful sexual conduct, Kingston was found guilty on only two of the counts.

Despite what appeared to be perjury by Sharli Kingston, prosecutors said the charge is difficult to prove -- without admission by the liar.

During the trial, the girl testified about another possible crime: She said her father, John Daniel Kingston, performed the rites in which she became her uncle's 15th wife. But no charges have been filed involving him purportedly marrying off his minor daughter in an illegal plural and incestuous marriage. (John Daniel Kingston pleaded no contest in April to third-degree felony child abuse for belt whipping the girl after she ran away from the arranged marriage. Sentencing is set for later this month on those charges.)

A yearlong investigation by The Salt Lake Tribune pointed out numerous other incestuous relationships which have not as yet been prosecuted:

* John Daniel Kingston and his wife, Susan Nelson -- the parents of the girl who testified against David Kingston -- are half-brother and sister and the parents of 10 children.

* -- David Kingston is married to at least two other of his nieces.

* -- Clan lawyer, Carl Kingston, supposedly performed a ceremony marrying his minor daughter to David Kingston as his third wife. And Kingston Church president Paul Kingston is married to his half-sister as well as several other women. Both are attorneys who have sworn to uphold the Utah Constitution, which prohibits polygamy.

* -- Former auditor for the Utah State Auditor, Jason Kingston, and his niece Rosalind are married, according to their marriage certificate.

* -- Jesse and Janice Vesta Johnson also are half-sister and brother, according to their marriage certificate and court documents.

Prosecutor Yocom said a good investigator could probably collect enough evidence to show the couples had had sex, produced children and co-habitated. DNA tests might even be used to establish paternity.

But without "a real, live victim to take to court," Yocom said he doubted if such cases could be successfully litigated. "We'd be venturing into awfully new ground," he said.

Prosecutors say incest is difficult to prosecute under any circumstances. There is more trauma when a victim accuses a father, uncle or grandfather than a stranger, neighbor or acquaintance, said prosecutor James Cope.

"It's really tough to say, `My dad or uncle did something to me,' " Cope said. "It reflects on you, because you're part of your family."

Accusations can force family members to choose sides. If the perpetrator happens to be the breadwinner, the prospect of his going to jail may create additional, economic hardships. And, no matter how terrible the crimes are against a child, the perpetrator may still be someone the child loves.

When the child belongs to a polygamous clan, the stakes may be even higher. Former polygamists say children are taught at an early age to shun outsiders and protect the family secrets -- at all costs.

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