Star witness surprises polygamy prosecutors

CNN/August 30, 2006

I left New Orleans for Kingman, Arizona, in a flash yesterday after hearing of the arrest of polygamist Warren Jeffs. I came here to cover the trial of one of his followers, which was supposed to start yesterday. But prosecutors got a big surprise when they put their star witness on the stand and she refused to answer questions.

Candi Shapley was just 16-years-old when, she says, Warren Jeffs ordered her to marry then 28-year-old Randy Barlow. Shapley had testified before a grand jury last year that Barlow had forced her to have sex with him after she'd moved into the home he shared with his other wife and children.

"I had never even seen him in my life. He just held me down and took my clothes off and raped me," Shadley told a local television station.

Barlow is charged with sexual conduct with a minor, which is more commonly known as statutory rape. But yesterday in court, Shapley, his former wife, refused repeated requests to answer questions on the stand.

How come? That's what I asked Mohave County District Attorney Matt Smith.

"Her family has put a tremendous amount of pressure on her. They're members. Her mother, father, both are believers in Warren Jeffs as being the prophet and in the FLDS church and they don't want her to have anything to do with these prosecutions," he said. "The victim is also a key witness in Warren Jeffs' case and here Warren Jeffs gets arrested. That pressure, that added scrutiny."

Barlow is one of eight men facing similar charges. All of them believed to be members of Warren Jeffs' FLDS church. This is the largest group of men to be prosecuted for polygamy-related crimes in this area since 1953. But prosecuting polygamists isn't easy, according to District Attorney Smith.

"Most of the victims won't talk to us. The neighbors won't talk to us. All the people that are loyal to Warren Jeffs won't talk to us." He told me some witnesses even go so far as to move homes so they can't be found again.

I also talked to Gary Engels, an investigator for the Mohave County Attorney's office. He has been following this issue for years.

"I think eventually justice will win out. If I didn't, I couldn't continue to do this. So I just keep pushing and pushing and see where it leads us. I'm not done yet. I'm not ready to give up," Engels told me.

Seven of the eight FLDS members charged in Mohave County are still awaiting trial. All have pleaded not guilty and refused to speak with CNN. The only one who's been tried is appealing his verdict. His name is Kelly Fischer. He was found guilty last month of statutory rape and given 45 days in jail and three years probation.

Here's the tricky part of the Barlow case -- if Candi Shapley stays silent, then Randy Barlow could go free and Candi -- now held in contempt of court -- could be the one who ends up in jail.

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