Provo, Utah -- A man who has five wives and 29 children was found guilty of bigamy in the country's first major polygamy case in nearly five decades.
Tom Green was convicted on four counts of bigamy and one of criminal failure to pay child support.
He faces up to 25 years in prison and $25,000 in fines. A jury of five women and three men deliberated for three hours before deciding early today on what has been called a test case for polygamy. Both sides say the case could open the door to future prosecutions.
Although Utah banned plural marriage in its Constitution in order to become a state, it has no specific anti-polyamy law on the books. Prosecutors combined the state's bigamy law and its definition of common-law marriage in prosecuting Green, who lives with his five wives and 25 children on a barren patch of the Utah desert.
As spectators in the courtroom strained to hear the jury's verdict, some of Green's family members could be heard crying. ''There was a lot of sensational evidence and a lot of pressure on the jury,'' said John Bucher, Green's attorney.
To make its case, the state had to show Green was married to one woman and cohabited with the others. Last year, a judge declared Green legally married to his first wife, Linda, although they didn't have a license.
Green said he never knew he might become legally married to the women he considers his ''spiritual'' wives. ''I was always careful and cautious to make sure they understood that it was a spiritual union that I had with each of them,'' he said. But prosecutors cited Green's experience as a part-time paralegal and said he must have understood the marriage law.
''Tom Green will use and bilk and abuse the laws of this state when it suits his purposes,'' Juab County Attorney David Leavitt told the jury in his closing statements. ''And when he doesn't want the laws to apply to him . . . then there's not a hair thin enough that he won't split to try to justify his position.''
Little of the evidence in the case was in dispute, in part because Green has appeared on dozens of television shows to spread his message about polygamy. Green believes religious freedom protects his right to marry more than one woman.