Utah Targets Polyg Prophet

While Arizona authorities languish, the Utah Attorney General's Office focuses on the leader of the fundamentalist Mormon Church

To date, Arizona has done little to address the well-documented sexual, welfare and education abuses in Colorado City -- other than to conduct a three-year criminal investigation that has resulted in no arrests.


"What does intimate mean?" 21-year-old Ruth Stubbs asked prosecutor Kristine Knowlton, in response to the attorney's question about her relationship with Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm.

Defense attorney Rodney Parker argued that polygamy would still be in place all over Utah if not for federal interference. He said Holm was merely following church dictates.
Nick Adams,The Spectrum
Defense attorney Rodney Parker argued that polygamy would still be in place all over Utah if not for federal interference. He said Holm was merely following church dictates.
Top: Holm with his attorneys. Bottom left: Fundamentalist Mormons look on during the trial. Bottom right: The monument that Prophet Jeffs ordered destroyed, before it disappeared.
Nick Adams,The Spectrum
Top: Holm with his attorneys. Bottom left: Fundamentalist Mormons look on during the trial. Bottom right: The monument that Prophet Jeffs ordered destroyed, before it disappeared.

Startled, Knowlton paused, and carefully selected her response in the context of her previous question to Stubbs. She had asked the witness how often she had engaged in "intimate" relations with Holm.

"Sexual intercourse," Knowlton explained to the witness.

Ruth nodded. Her unfamiliarity with the word "intimate" and several other common words speaks volumes about how young girls are commonly treated in Colorado City. Ruth's formal education ended after sixth grade, four years before she became a child bride at age 16.

One of 42 children raised in a polygamous household, Ruth was entered into a polygamous union -- known as a "spiritual" marriage -- to Rodney Holm on December 11, 1998. She joined two other wives in his household.

Ruth was special, because it meant that Holm, under fundamentalist Mormon theology, would be able to enter the "celestial kingdom" when he dies. A third wife is a requirement for such ascension to godlike status.

At first, Ruth had had no interest in helping Rodney reach this crucial threshold. She had wanted to marry another man, a bachelor, whom she had been seeing for several months.

But when she approached FLDS prophet Rulon Jeffs (who died last September) to gain his permission to marry her sweetheart, the elder Jeffs told her that she "belonged" to Rodney.

Holm was already legally married to Ruth's older sister, Suzie, and spiritually married to a second wife, Wendy.

"I just cried," Ruth testified, recalling Rulon Jeffs' decision.

But Ruth testified that she went along with the edict anyway.

When Knowlton asked her why she had agreed to marry Holm, Ruth said, "I don't know."

The day after Rulon's decision, Ruth was "sealed for time and all eternity" to Holm in a religious ceremony conducted by Warren Jeffs. Ruth Stubbs was 16 and Rodney Holm was 32.

Within two months, Ruth was pregnant with her first child with Holm. She would conceive one more child with Holm before turning 18.

Even though she has only a grammar-school education and few job skills, Ruth fled the polygamous marriage in December 2001. With the help of a sister who had left the community two decades earlier, Ruth filed a child-custody case in Maricopa County that ultimately resulted in Utah filing the criminal charges against Holm. Shurtleff's office used the case in preparing its charges against the Colorado City cop.

Despite her troubled history in the polygamous enclave, Ruth was not an enthusiastic prosecution witness. After a short stay in Phoenix, Ruth moved back to the Colorado City area, and her children have been staying on a regular basis with Holm and his other wives. She had signed a statement in her child-custody case that she did not want Holm to go to jail.

And for a while, Ruth appeared to be sticking to her commitment to help Holm stay out of jail. She failed to appear for Holm's preliminary hearing last December -- which led to the dismissal of a bigamy charge the state had filed against her sister, Suzie, for pressuring Ruth to marry Holm.

Her absence also prevented Utah authorities from obtaining sworn testimony they planned to use to file a felony charge against Warren Jeffs for conducting her spiritual marriage ceremony. That charge can no longer be filed because the statute of limitations has expired on the commission of the alleged crime.

Even as Holm's trial date approached, authorities were uncertain whether Ruth would honor a subpoena to appear, since FLDS elders were pressuring her not to cooperate.

But she did appear, and the chamber was packed to overflow capacity in Utah Fifth Judicial Judge G. Rand Beachum's court.

Many of the seats were occupied by stern-faced FLDS members -- in an obvious message to the jury, and to Ruth Stubbs.

FLDS women -- wearing dowdy clothes, no makeup and their hair pulled back in tight braids -- sat next to their husbands. During breaks in the proceedings, the men directed the females around the courthouse complex with mere nods and flicks of their fingers.

But the FLDS' hope that Ruth would fall into line like any loyal fundamentalist wife, taught to obey men without question, was dashed when Ruth walked into the courtroom. She had tossed aside any remnant of the strict FLDS dress code, and strutted to the witness stand wearing a tight, white-knit blouse and clingy blue jeans.

The state's ploy was to establish that Ruth had been victimized by a man twice her age intent on stealing her virginity. And her mostly yes-and-no answers, coupled with her lack of education and young-girl demeanor, were enough to convict Holm of bigamy and the two counts of sexual misconduct charges leveled against him. Each of the three counts is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Holm had married Ruth's sister, Suzie, in a civil ceremony in 1986. Prosecutors established that he and Ruth then entered into a spiritual marriage in 1998, while Holm was still legally married to Suzie and spiritually married to Wendy. In Utah, bigamy occurs when a legally married person is married to or "purports" to be married to another person.

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