By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The way it works is, church leaders from time to time urge members to come forward and confess misdeeds such as sexual misconduct. The idea is that they must repent to remain in God's good graces.
"The bishop up there will discuss a subject like that and tell the people they need to come forward," says Matt Smith, Mohave County's lead sex crimes prosecutor. "We will then see [a case] every once in a while."
Colorado City police declined to return phone calls. But information gleaned from court records shows that most cases follow a similar pattern. Upon getting the word from religious leaders, Colorado City cops typically interview the victims without videotaping the proceedings. Sometimes a Mohave County sheriff's deputy is called in to assist in the questioning.
The officers then interview the suspect -- sometimes days later. The suspect readily confesses to the crime and is normally arrested. A brief synopsis of the interviews, usually no more than a couple of pages, is then sent to the County Attorney's Office for review and presentation to a grand jury.
Here is what happened in the 12 Arizona cases involving a dangerous crime against a child:
Not one of those indicted went to trial. They all ended with the suspect pleading guilty, typically to a single, reduced felony count. No suspect was sentenced to state prison -- with most offenders receiving probation. Several served time in county jail. The longest sentence was one year. Three of the cases resulted in sentences requiring registration as a sex offender.
Ekstrom is aware that polygamists control law enforcement in Colorado City. But he doesn't go around thinking they are corrupt because of their religion. Besides, he says, the wishes of the community play into punishment leveled from all jurisdictions in the county. He says letters are often received from family and friends requesting leniency. When it comes to Colorado City, however, Ekstrom's office never receives another kind of letter that commonly comes from other areas -- the kind that calls for the county attorney to throw the book at the scoundrel.
Typically, Colorado City community leaders will write letters vouching for a sex offender's character, his spiritual devotion and his important role in society.
Dan Barlow Jr., for instance, got many such letters from FLDS leaders, and Ekstrom says the support played a big role in the county's handling of the case. He says it even factored into the light 13-day sentence that Barlow received.
"The court first has to accept the plea and impose a sentence, and [it was] even more lenient than what we recommended," Ekstrom says.
When word got out that Dan Barlow Jr. had gotten a slap on the wrist, a wave of discouragement went through the community of Colorado City women considering fleeing or pressing charges, anti-abuse activists say.
The closed, fundamentalist society in which these women live preaches that outsiders are wicked. Anyone cooperating with outside authorities can expect severe repercussions, including excommunication from the church, shunning by family and friends, eviction from their homes and the loss of their children.
"They have blackballed me with every horrible accusation that you can make against a person," says a woman who has fled Colorado City. "I don't even dare get near the place until things calm down."
It is clear that law enforcement authorities like Ekstrom have allowed FLDS leaders to strengthen their grip on the community. The fundamentalist leaders are not forced to change anything when all the average sex offender can expect from the County Attorney's Office and the courts is the most minimal punishment possible.
Says sex-crimes prosecutor Nannetti, "Until the ramifications are worse for the offender than the victims, things are not going to change."
While Arizona leaders -- from Ekstrom to Napolitano -- have shown no interest in coming down hard on men who molest young girls in the name of polygamy, their counterparts in Utah appear to have gotten the message that something has to be done.
Last January, Utah's special investigator for polygamous communities, Ron Barton, accused Colorado City religious leaders of doing what every outside expert familiar with the situation knows they have been doing for decades -- covering up sexual misconduct. Barton formally leveled the accusation in a letter to Mohave County Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss in conjunction with another Colorado City-area child-molestation case.
In the letter, Barton expressed concern that neither the adults living in the home of the suspect, Todd Dutson, nor FLDS religious leader Warren Jeffs filed a report with police or child-protective-services officers after learning of Dutson's behavior -- which included molesting two girls, ages 13 and 11.
On several occasions in 1999, and again in 2001, Dutson entered the girls' bedrooms while they were sleeping, pulled down their panties and inserted a finger into their vaginas.
Barton says Jeffs "decided to rely solely on his ecclesiastical authority to impose disciplinary action."
Jeffs' solution, Barton states, was to order that Dutson, a juvenile at the time of the offenses, be stripped of his priesthood and forced to move away from the community. According to Barton's letter, the Prophet told Dutson he could be reinstated into the FLDS after repenting.