Fornicating for God

As the case of a snatched Mormon girl from Salt Lake City unfolds, polygamists along the Arizona-Utah border face legal scrutiny

Meanwhile, the Arizona AG's office filed a complaint in Mohave County Superior Court on February 27, charging Colorado City-area polygamist Orson William Black Jr. with five felony counts of sexual misconduct with two girls.

The Mohave County Sheriff's Office and AG's investigators have been unsuccessful in an extensive effort to locate and serve the complaint on Black, who is considered a fugitive.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard says the complaint shows the state will prosecute cases of sexual misconduct against minors anywhere they occur – including within the FLDS stronghold in Colorado City.

Roberta Stubbs, above, was 15 when she first conceived a child with Orson Black Jr.
Roberta Stubbs, above, was 15 when she first conceived a child with Orson Black Jr.

"I don't want to precipitate an incident [in which FLDS members resort to violence to protect their own]," Goddard says. "But, at the same time, we have important laws we have to enforce."

Goddard's complaint – which was released to New Times on March 11 – targets a fringe member of the polygamist community who quit the FLDS more than a decade ago. A conviction against Black is unlikely to significantly impact the FLDS community, while an investigation of Jeffs would rock the fundamentalist church to its core. Arizona's complaint alleges that Black sexually assaulted sisters Roberta LeAnn Stubbs, now 20, and Beth M. Stubbs, now 18. The women are said to be Blacks' fifth and sixth spiritual wives.

Black, 42, is charged with three counts of sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact with a minor, and one count each of conspiring with Roberta and Beth to have sexual conduct with a minor.

Black apparently is another example of a fundamentalist Mormon who claims to have had a revelation to practice polygamy. According to sources in the area who know him, he considers himself an archangel who communicates directly with God.

"He takes the girls on top of a mountain and marries them," Pennie Peterson, Roberta and Beth Stubbs' sister, tells New Times.

Roberta and Beth both were under the age of 15 when they first moved into Black's home, maintains Peterson, who says she made more than a dozen calls to state Child Protective Services workers about the situation, beginning in 1997.

"They didn't respond," Peterson says. "Not at all."

Peterson predicts that her sisters are unlikely to cooperate with authorities in the case against Black, which is not unusual for wives in plural marriages. FLDS doctrine requires men to have at least three wives to reach the highest levels of heaven. Women can only go there if husbands agree to bring them along. Plus, women in polygamous marriages tend to fear reprisals from FLDS elders more than they fear civil law.

Birth certificates are expected to play an important role in the Black case.

Orson Black, born March 18, 1961, is the father of Roberta Stubbs' two children and the father of Beth Stubbs' only child.

According to birth records, Roberta, born on May 6, 1982, was about 15 years, 10 months old when she conceived Robert William Black, born on December 30, 1998. Roberta was 17 years, three months old when she conceived Quinie Black, born on May 15, 2000. Both children were born in Hildale. Beth, born in November, 1983, was 17 years, nine months old when she conceived a baby born in April 2002, Peterson says. Beth conceived another of Black's babies when she was 15, Peterson says, but that child was a stillborn.

Peterson and other sources say Black was brought before a state grand jury last April, where he testified that the Stubbs sisters' pregnancies were a result of artificial insemination.

"He's saying he impregnated them with a syringe," Peterson says.

Authorities confirm that Black is claiming the "turkey-baster" defense.

Peterson says she's concerned that Black may have spiritually married two teenage daughters from his third and fourth wives. Black's third wife, Claudia Zitting, has a daughter from a previous marriage, as does his fourth wife, Rose Stubbs Barlow. Peterson says the girls, both 15, were pulled from the public schools several months ago by Black.

Black has been in court on several occasions, stemming from a tumultuous relationship with Tamara Phelps, who, as his second spiritual wife, bore him three children. Phelps claimed in court documents that Black repeatedly whipped her with a belt and beat her with his fist.

Black denied the allegations and claimed Phelps was mentally unstable. The couple eventually separated, with the three children staying with Black.

Peterson, who now lives in Phoenix, left the FLDS as a teenager in the mid-1980s after Prophet Leroy Johnson, now deceased, announced plans to marry her to her best friend's polygamous husband.

It is high time that the AG's office filed criminal charges against a polygamist, Peterson says. "Just because they are polygamists doesn't mean they can just sit there and get away with it."

The last state action against Colorado City-area polygamists occurred in 1953 when former Governor Howard Pyle sent in state police and national guardsmen to arrest most of the men in town. The raid also rounded up more than 200 women and children who were bused to Phoenix. The women and children lived with foster families for the next two years.

Most of the criminal charges were eventually dropped against the men, for lack of evidence. In 1955, a juvenile court judge ruled that the children should stay with their parents, and most of the women and children returned to Colorado City.

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