Heidi Mattingly Foster spent nearly two hours on the stand in juvenile court Monday as state attorneys repeatedly asked her to acknowledge she and polygamist John Daniel Kingston abused their children and questioned her ability to protect them.
The hearing was briefly interrupted after the 19-year-old son of 3rd District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez, who is hearing the case, was arrested outside the courthouse after a scuffle with Kingston supporters.
Inside the building, Mattingly Foster refused to detail any past abuse, citing her right to avoid self-incrimination. But she said new parenting techniques learned in months of therapy would help her keep the children safe and that she would protect them from Kingston "If I need to."
"I do believe there are places I've fallen short," said Mattingly Foster, who has 11 children with Kingston. "Because I am human, I have the ability to learn from my mistakes."
Another bizarre twist in the case, which has involved allegations of death threats and kidnapping plots, involved the testimony from a brother of one foster mother caring for Kingston children.
The man, a convicted felon now at the Utah State Prison, testified he tried to get Kingston and his attorney to pay him for information about crowded living conditions at his sister's home, where he stayed briefly this winter.
The hearing, aimed at determining if the couple's children can be reunited with their mother, continues today at the Matheson Courthouse. If Valdez decides they can not, he may initiate a trial to terminate the couple's parental rights.
The case landed in court over a year ago after a dispute between the couple and two daughters led to intervention by relatives and subsequent allegations of ongoing abuse and neglect.
The two oldest girls, ages 13 and 16, were removed from Mattingly Foster's home in February 2004; another eight children, ranging in age from 2 to 15, were removed in October after the state alleged the couple was being uncooperative. Mattingly Foster, 33, has custody of a 9-month-old daughter.
Valdez opened Monday's hearing by noting the couple's children have been the subject of 56 court hearings since 1996. He also commented on protesters outside the courthouse, telling Mattingly Foster, "That really helps your case."
About 90 minutes later, Tito Andrew Valdez was arrested after scuffling with the picketers.
Nevin Pratt, Mattingly Foster's uncle, organized the demonstration to protest Valdez's actions in this and several other cases. A dozen protesters marched on the sidewalk with signs that read, "Just Say No to Retaining Judge Valdez" and handing out packets about the case.
Tito Valdez told the protesters they were defaming his father, according to Pratt, and tossed a box of their brochures into the street. He also grabbed signs, breaking them.
Sheriff's deputies wrestled the teen to the ground as he urged them to arrest the protesters and yelled about "police brutality," according to KUTV Channel 2 footage. Tito Valdez was cited for disorderly conduct, a Class C misdemeanor. His father called a brief recess after being informed of the event.
Back in court, Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Nichols said the children's safety was the paramount issue and, given Mattingly Foster's refusal to acknowledge any domestic violence or abusive behavior, cast doubt she would do "anything" to protect them.
Mattingly Foster, 33, said she would "do whatever it takes to keep my children safe from harm," adding moments later she believes "there are times I've been mistreated [by Kingston]."
Guardian Ad Litem Kristin Brewer kept up the theme, reminding Mattingly Foster of her previous inability to keep a clean, sanitary home. Brewer also asked her views of immunizations and antidepressants, which Brewer said some of the children need.
Mattingly Foster said she doesn't believe in either and would rely on therapy and a positive environment, rather than drugs, to treat depression.
Nichols also called John C. Clark as a witness. Clark entered the courtroom in shackles and an orange jumpsuit, sobbing.
Clark said that in "drug-induced state" he contacted Kingston attorney Daniel Irvin, figuring he could "get some money out of the guy." He offered information about his sister, saying Monday his motive was to "stab my sister in the back" and "finance my drug habit." Clark lived at the home in December and visited there periodically afterward.
Over several meetings, Clark offered to take photos of the home, which he described as overcrowded. "They just wanted to make sure the kids were safe," said Clark of Irvin and Kingston.
Clark said he asked Irvin to pay an $80 phone bill and give him $15,000. Irvin said he paid the phone bill in order to be able to reach Clark, whom he expected to call as a witness, but never offered any other money.
Carol Sisco, spokeswoman for the Division of Child and Family Services, said her office learned after the fact Clark had stayed at his sister's home, a violation of a requirement that all adults in a foster care home pass a background check.
"We told [the foster mother] if he ever showed up again, her license would be yanked," Sisco said.