West Jordon, Utah – A juvenile court judge on Tuesday ordered six of the 11 children Heidi Mattingly has with polygamist John Daniel Kingston returned to their mother's custody after the state removed them amid allegations of abuse.
"The children will be returned tonight to their mother," said 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Lindsley.
Six of the couple's children have been in foster homes since October. Two boys had already returned home, a 1-year-old girl has always been in Mattingly's care and the two girls who sparked the case, now 17 and 15, have told a judge they don't wish to return to their family.
Going home Tuesday were a 13-year-old boy, an 11-year-old girl, an 8-year-old girl, a 6-year-old girl, 4-year-old boy and a 3-year-old boy.
"I am very, very happy. Judge Lindsley ruled in favor of the children," Mattingly said after the hearing.
The state planned to appeal the ruling.
A no-contact order for the children against Kingston, 50, remains in effect. Mattingly said she hopes the family eventually can be reunited with Kingston.
In returning custody to the 34-year-old Mattingly, the judge said she believes Mattingly had substantially complied with court orders.
Lindsley said representatives of the state Division of Child and Family Services must be granted unlimited access to the family.
"I will not listen to excuses for why a family preservation officer cannot get in touch with you or cannot get into your home," the judge told Mattingly.
Mattingly said the family would have a big party Tuesday night and then she was looking forward to "getting a good night's sleep. I haven't had a good night's sleep in a year."
The 2004 case has been the first to test the newly open juvenile court system, where reporters and other members of the public can attend hearings and gain access to some, but not all, court filings. It also provided a rare glimpse into the secretive polygamist Kingston clan.
The secretive group has an estimated 1,200 members and runs a $150 million business empire that includes pawn shops, markets, restaurant supply stores, dairies and mines throughout Utah. Critics say it teaches and promotes sexual abuse of young girls through illegal marriages, incest and polygamy.
The family's troubles began in February 2004 when the couple's two teenage daughters got their ears pierced. The family prohibits body piercing until children are 18, according to Kingston's testimony in the case. The girls were taken by Mattingly to their father's office so he could confront them about the piercings.
The eldest girl, 15 at the time, fled the office in tears and ran to a nearby gas station. According to her taped testimony, she said her father threatened her and her sister and said if they didn't take the earrings out "he was going to rip them out ... and he was going to make it hurt."
After a June 2004 trial, 3rd District Judge Andrew Valdez found that the girls were abused and neglected. When further allegations of abuse and neglect surfaced, Valdez removed the remaining children, except the infant girl, from the home in October 2004.
Mattingly was ordered to have no contact with any member of her family or religious community and to undergo counseling if she wanted to regain custody of the children.
After a three-day hearing in April, Valdez ruled that Mattingly had made significant progress and it would be safe to begin transitioning the children back into the home, with a review scheduled for 90 days later.
The 90 days came and went with only two of Mattingly's sons returned to her home. As the review hearing approached, Valdez recused himself from the case citing a confrontation his son had with police and Kingston supporters outside the courthouse during one of the March hearings. A second judge assigned to the case also recused himself because he prosecuted Kingston in a 1999 case where Kingston pleaded no contest to second-degree felony child abuse for beating a daughter he has with another woman after the girl attempted to flee an alleged marriage to her uncle.
Lindsley was assigned the case and heard three days of testimony in the case in July.
The attorney general's office filed a petition to terminate both Mattingly and Kingston's parental rights, which would have permanently removed all the children from their care. But Carolyn Nichols, an assistant state attorney general, said after the hearing Tuesday that the petition would be amended to terminate rights on only the two daughters who said they did not want to return home.