Kingman, Arizona -- A Colorado City plumber accused of taking a teenage girl as a plural wife pleaded no contest to two charges late Tuesday, resolving the seventh of eight cases filed against men from the polygamous community.
Dale Evans Barlow, 49, had been charged with sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, the same charges each of the men faced. The sexual conduct charge was dropped in exchange for his no contest plea to the conspiracy count and another undesignated crime.
At sentencing, scheduled for June 15, Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steven Conn will decide whether the unspecified charge will be considered a felony or a misdemeanor. The plea bargain included Barlow's admission that it was sexually motivated.
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said the deal saved the county the expense of a trial, while preserving sentencing options similar to those allowed under the original counts.
"We were prepared to go to trial," Smith said. "It never occurred to me this [plea] could occur."
Defense attorney Bruce Griffin suggested the deal and thanked Conn for accepting it on the eve of trial, which had been scheduled to begin Wednesday.
The eight men charged by Arizona in 2005 are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect primarily located in the twin towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah.
Its leader, Warren S. Jeffs, is facing trial in Utah on charges of being an accomplice to rape for a 2001 marriage involving a 14-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man.
So far, two Arizona men were found guilty after trials; one was sentenced to 45 days in jail and the other is serving a nine-month sentence. One man pleaded no contest to child abuse and was placed on probation pending sentencing. Two cases were dropped and one ended in an acquittal due to problems with evidence - including an alleged victim who refused to testify and a lack of proof that the alleged sexual contact occurred in Arizona.
Mohave County investigator Gary Engels said Barlow's no contest plea "shows there is a change in the way these people are thinking. Before they had to fall on their swords. Now, they're looking at plea agreements."
The final trial - scheduled May 15 against defendant Rodney H. Holm - is also the last surviving case of three that included allegations against Jeffs. The two others were among those dropped.
Birth certificates were key evidence in the successful prosecutions. Barlow was accused of marrying a girl two months shy of her 17th birthday. She gave birth in 2000, when she was 17 years and eight months old.
At sentencing, Conn will decide whether Barlow must register as a sex offender.
The conspiracy charge is a class 6 felony, punishable by up to six months in jail. Depending on how Conn decides to handle the undesignated charge, he could sentence Barlow to up to a year in jail.
He can also place Barlow on probation for up to three years.
About a dozen of 75 expected jury candidates did not learn of the trial's cancellation, and Conn ordered Barlow to pay their juror fees and reimburse their mileage. Griffin said he will pay those expenses, explaining he had been busy in another hearing until late Tuesday.
Six supporters attended Barlow's plea hearing.
Holm, facing trial next month, is a former police officer who spent a year in jail for his 2003 Utah convictions on two counts of unlawful sex with a minor and one count of bigamy. He took 16-year-old Ruth Stubbs as his third wife in 1998, when he was 32. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his bigamy conviction.
The FLDS has its roots in the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which abandoned polygamy in 1890 and now excommunicates those who embrace it.