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

The leader of a renegade branch of the Mormon Church, now 47, had sexual relations with an underage girl who bore him a daughter in July 2000, records obtained by New Times indicate.

Warren Jeffs, Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (FLDS), apparently lives with the child's mother, now 21, and at least 13 other wives in a fenced compound in Hildale, Utah. The town is adjacent to Colorado City, Arizona, along the border between the two states. Fundamentalist Mormons have openly practiced polygamy in this remote Arizona Strip region for more than 70 years.

Sexual contact with 16- or 17-year-olds is illegal in Utah for people who are 10 years older, unless couples are legally married – which would be impossible in polygamous unions in all but first marriages, since a state law bans polygamy in Utah, and Arizona's constitution prohibits the practice.

Evidence of Jeffs' apparent illegal sexual relations with a minor comes at the same time that more information is surfacing about the bizarre kidnapping of Salt Lake City teenager Elizabeth Smart, and her ensuing relationship with polygamist Brian Mitchell (a.k.a. Immanuel).

Meanwhile – for the first time in 50 years – the State of Arizona has filed felony sexual misconduct with a minor charges against a Colorado City-area polygamist and former FLDS member. The charges were unsealed a day before it was announced that Smart had surfaced alive, after she was abducted at knifepoint from her bed last June 5.

A Utah birth certificate indicating Jeffs' alleged sexual conduct with an underage girl and Arizona's filing charges against a polygamist increase tension in the outsider-unfriendly Colorado City-Hildale area that long has feared police incursion. Arizona law-enforcement officials have expressed concern that fanatic supporters of Jeffs might resort to violence to prevent any effort to take him into custody, turning the polygamist colony into another Waco, Texas.

Like the Mormon Church's founders, Mitchell is said to have received a revelation that God had restored the "celestial law of polygamy."

Introduced by church founder Joseph Smith and promoted by his successor, Brigham Young, polygamy was a tenet of the Salt Lake City-based faith from the 1850s until it was disavowed in the 1890s. The mainstream church began excommunicating polygamists in the 1920s, though members continue to believe in polygamy in the afterlife.

Mitchell, who was excommunicated from the mainstream church, appears to have kidnapped Smart to make her his second of what he vowed would be eight wives. Investigators reported that his legal wife, Wanda Barzee, 57, claimed Mitchell was instructed through revelations to take seven young wives, because they would be more likely to submit to plural marriage.

Smart, who appears to have cooperated to some degree with Mitchell, has been raised in an affluent Mormon family. Obedience to men is stressed in Mormon culture.

There is no evidence that Mitchell had any direct connection to the FLDS, a fortress of polygamy in the West, with about 6,000 devotees living in the northern Arizona and southern Utah enclave. But there are indications that Mitchell shares much of the FLDS' philosophy.

Hundreds of teenage girls – some younger than the 15-year-old Smart – have been joined with older men in legally unsanctioned "spiritual" marriages performed by FLDS elders in the Colorado City-Hildale area.

FLDS members believe polygamy is the only way to reach the highest levels of heaven. The FLDS bases its belief on a doctrine called the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, a manuscript that Mitchell also embraces.

Mitchell's desire for seven more wives is modest compared to the insatiable quest for females by FLDS leaders. Warren Jeffs succeeded his father, Rulon, as the leader of the church after the 92-year-old's death last September. Rulon was believed to have had upwards of 70 wives, some of whom have since become his son's spiritual spouses.

The birth certificate obtained by New Times is the first substantial evidence that an FLDS leader has engaged in illegal sexual conduct with a minor. The certificate states that Warren Steeds Jeffs is the father of Millie Jeffs, born in Hildale on July 7, 2000. The mother is listed as Millie Annie Jessop, born March 20, 1982. Based on a nine-month gestation, Millie Anne Jessop was 17 years and seven months old at the time of conception.

Authorities say it is unlikely that Warren Jeffs was legally married to Millie Anne Jessop at the time of the conception. Warren had about 14 spiritual wives in June, 2001, including Millie, according to the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

Jeffs could not be reached for comment.

Paul Murphy, a spokesman for Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, declined to comment on polygamy among FLDS faithful – or on the evidence indicating that Warren Jeffs had an illegal sexual relationship with a minor. Utah, however, has taken legal action against other FLDS polygamists based on similar documentation.

Last fall, the state filed bigamy and sexual misconduct charges against Hildale-Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm, stemming from his spiritual marriage to 16-year-old Ruth Stubbs as his third wife.

According to Utah birth certificates, Stubbs was impregnated by Holm twice before she was 18. Holm has been suspended from his police duties pending the outcome of his trial, scheduled for later this year.

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.

"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.

In December 2000, former Attorney General and now Governor Janet Napolitano initiated a criminal investigation after FLDS leaders in Colorado City ordered followers to withdraw all their children from the public schools. Her office never filed a criminal complaint in the probe, which has continued under Goddard. Her AG's office did, however, assist Utah law enforcement in the investigation that led to the indictment of police officer Rodney Holm.

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