Utah Targets Polyg Prophet

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

The unlawful sexual misconduct charges were easy to prove.

Since Holm did not testify, there was little the defense could do to refute Ruth's sworn statements, not to mention copies of birth certificates showing that Holm was the father of two children conceived when Ruth was underage. Ruth testified that she had engaged in regular sexual relations with Holm in their house in Hildale while she was under 18 and not legally married to him.

The defense's principal argument was that the state could not prove the exact location of the sexual intercourse that led to the conception of the children. Defense attorney Rodney Parker argued that conception could have occurred when the couple was traveling outside the state of Utah.

The defense attempted to have two expert witnesses testify about the history and philosophy of the FLDS, but Judge Beachum would not allow it. "The community is not on trial," Beachum said.

The only defense witness called was Ruth's father, David Stubbs, who testified that he gave Holm permission to marry his 16-year-old daughter.

"I told [Ruth] I felt like Rod was a good man," David Stubbs said.

On cross-examination, he admitted that Ruth's mother had been opposed to her marriage to Holm.

With the facts stacked against them, Parker, and his senior partner, Max Wheeler, tried to convince the jury that Holm should be acquitted because he had merely followed deeply held religious beliefs that were once common throughout Utah.

The lawyers alluded to the fact that polygamy was first introduced to the Mormon Church by founder Joseph Smith in 1843. The mainstream Mormon Church moved away from the practice in 1890, although high-ranking church officials continued to practice it well into the 20th century.

The fundamentalist Mormon community in Colorado City and Hildale was formed when polygamists broke with the Salt Lake City-based church over its renunciation of plural marriage and moved to the isolated area along the Arizona Strip.

In his closing arguments, Parker seized on an ambiguity regarding polygamy in the mainstream church. While the church says it excommunicates any member engaging in polygamy, the practice remains codified in church doctrine. In fact, it is believed by many mainstream adherents that polygamy will be practiced in the afterlife.

"We don't see our ancestors as criminals and immoral," Parker told jurors, several of whom are Mormon. "We see our ancestors today as victims of religious persecution. . . . If the federal government had not forced us, the [Mormon Church] would not have given up polygamy."

Parker said Holm was simply following "God's laws," instead of the state's.

Prosecutor Knowlton shredded Parker's religious-based defense in her brief rebuttal.

"It is not appropriate to come in to this court and ask you to ignore the law," Knowlton told the jury.

She argued that historical religious practices are irrelevant when it comes to the legal prohibition against adults having sex with children: "What was acceptable in the 19th century is not acceptable now."

Even if polygamy were legally allowed, Knowlton said, the bottom line is that Holm could have waited until Ruth was 18 to make her his third wife.

"He's sworn [as a police officer] to protect children," she said. "He violated that trust and violated these laws."

Despite Knowlton's emphasis on the letter of the law regarding sex with underage girls, defense attorney Wheeler insisted during a break in the trial that the charges against Holm were really an attack on the institution of polygamy.

"You can't separate these prosecutions from the whole concept of plural marriages," he said.

After the verdicts were returned, Ron Barton, a Utah AG's Office investigator working on the case, said, "Today we have sent a message to Warren Jeffs that those marriages will not be tolerated, and we have also sent a message to the young women in Colorado City that they are entitled to the protection of the law."

Holm's lawyers said they plan to file an appeal, based in part on the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas sodomy law involving consenting adults. Parker said the Supreme Court's ruling is broad enough to protect Holm's religious right to practice polygamy.

Holm is scheduled to be sentenced on October 10.


Nearly an hour into his August 10 sermon, Prophet Warren Jeffs announced that God had told him he was upset about the construction of a stone monument in Colorado City commemorating the 50th anniversary of Arizona's police raid on the community.

The July 26, 1953, raid is the penultimate moment in FLDS history. Directed by then-governor Howard Pyle, the raid resulted in the arrest of most of the men in town and the forced removal of women and children to Phoenix. Pyle's effort to end polygamy in the community ultimately failed.

The raid has been elevated to biblical proportions by the FLDS, whose members see its failure as a confirmation that they are entitled to practice their fundamentalist religious beliefs -- foremost among them polygamy.

Late last month, Colorado City officials dedicated the stone monument and museum built inside the town's historic schoolhouse. Several senior members of the Barlow family, including Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow, had been among those arrested in the raid half a century ago. The museum featured a slide show and photographs depicting the event.

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