Polygamy Prosecutors See Unfinished Job

Associated Press/August 17, 2007

Phoenix -- As the criminal trials against eight members of a polygamous sect slowly come to an end, the Arizona authorities who brought them to court predict that other practitioners will continue to skirt the law.

"We still have people that we believe are being abused that refuse to testify, so as long as that's happening, we haven't finished the job," Attorney General Terry Goddard said. "You know a tradition of 100 years doesn't get turned around in one or two."

The eight men were accused of entering polygamous unions with young girls and then fathering their children. Authorities had hoped their indictments would serve as a warning to other male members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

But two years later, three of the men received jail sentences ranging from one day to nine months. One was found not guilty and charges were dropped against two others.

Another, Dale Barlow, was sentenced Friday to 45 days in jail for his no-contest plea to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. He also was ordered to register as a sex offender for the three years of his probation. Under his plea agreement, a charge of sexual conduct with a minor was dismissed.

Rodney Holm, the last of the eight men, has yet to go trial.

Goddard and Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, two of the key players in the indictments of the eight men, said Thursday they've taken the first steps to bringing the rule of law to the polygamous communities of Colorado City and nearby Hildale, Utah.

But they say there's still a long way to go.

Smith said it's hard to predict, but it will take years to stop underage marriage in the polygamous towns, and it's got to start in the schools.

"We've got to have access to these kids," he said. "They start getting indoctrinated into these beliefs at such an early age."

Bruce Griffen, who represents the eight men accused of marrying underage girls, said his clients feel they are being religiously persecuted.

"There's an element of continued feeling among my clients that there is a government effort to cause disruption to the FLDS community," he said.

He said several of his clients have continued to live the lives they were leading before they were indicted. "These are intact families," he said. "They continue to live together and have multiple children and have no inclination of changing their family structures."

Flora Jessop of Phoenix, a former FLDS member who fled the Colorado City community in 1996, said authorities have accomplished "nothing" to fight child abuse.

"I think the attorney generals of Utah and Arizona have done a very good job of telling us they're doing a very good job," said Jessop, who also is executive director of the Child Protection Project, which raises awareness about child abuse.

"What has actually been accomplished? Let's see, out of eight indictments they brought, the maximum sentence we've received for one of those guys is nine months ... It's absolutely too little, it's way too little."

Smith pointed to the arrest and current imprisonment of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who is being held in Utah on two counts of rape by accomplice and faces life terms in prison if convicted. In Arizona, he faces sexual misconduct charges which carry lesser penalties.

Both states brought the charges in connection with marriages Jeffs allegedly arranged between older men and teenage girls.

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