Double Exposure

Arizona's finally followed Utah's lead and launched serious action to stop abuses by polygamists

Fundamentalist Mormon prophet Warren Jeffs came close to getting arrested over the last year because the Utah Attorney General's Office believed he wanted disobedient teenager Vanessa Rohbock sacrificed to the Lord in a religious ritual called Blood Atonement.

Based upon the teachings of Mormon Church patriarch Brigham Young, Jeffs professed that Vanessa's soul could be saved from eternal hell only if her blood were spilled, sources say.

Young had preached that death was the only redemption for certain sins -- including adultery.

"Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood? That is what Jesus Christ meant," Young was quoted as saying in an 1857 sermon delivered in Salt Lake City and memorialized in the primary fundamentalist Mormon document Purity in the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, compiled by Jeffs' father and former fundamentalist Prophet Rulon Jeffs.

Vanessa had committed the most vile of sins in the fundamentalist Mormon world: She had taken a boyfriend of her own choosing instead of marrying the man Warren Jeffs had chosen for her.

For that transgression, she was to die.

"Warren wanted Vanessa blood-atoned," says Ron Barton, a criminal investigator in Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's office.

What Jeffs wants, he usually gets.

The 48-year-old recluse dictates life in the isolated communities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, along the artificial boundary between the two states, where more than 6,000 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) believe that men must have at least three wives to reach heaven's highest echelon.

To violate a command by Jeffs -- seen by devotees as God's earthly representative and the ultimate authority on assignments into polygamous marriages -- is an unpardonable transgression that can lead to severe punishment.

Jeffs, according to Barton and others familiar with the matter, ordered Vanessa's father to retrieve her from Canada, where she had found safe haven with Jeffs' rival, fundamentalist Mormon polygamist leader Winston Blackmore.

Vanessa refused to go back with her father, Ron Rohbock, who at the time was one of Jeffs' bodyguards. Rohbock made several trips to Canada to pick up his daughter, but he could not persuade the girl to go back to Colorado City.

On one of the trips, Rohbock told Blackmore that Jeffs had decreed that there was nothing left for Vanessa to do but return home and face the ultimate punishment, death, according to the Utah AG's Office.

In an interview with Utah investigators, Blackmore said he and the girl's father had been instructed by Jeffs to pray day and night for Vanessa's destruction.

Testament to the power Jeffs has over fundamentalist Mormons, Vanessa eventually returned to Colorado City and was spared when she agreed to marry the man the prophet had selected.

"Everyone was concerned about [Vanessa Rohbock's] welfare, including law enforcement agencies on both sides of the [U.S.-Canadian] border," Blackmore tells New Times.

Vanessa is no longer in danger, Blackmore attests. "I think she was the safest girl in the nation by the time that she went back to Colorado City," he says wryly.

The Utah Attorney General's Office, Barton says, was considering charging Jeffs with conspiracy to commit murder for issuing the blood-atonement order on Vanessa. But with Vanessa back in the FLDS fold, whether of her own volition or not, the case was shelved in favor of what the AG's Office hopes will be more prosecutable crimes by the prophet.

Jeffs could not be reached for comment. His Salt Lake City attorney, Rodney Parker, said the AG's investigation into Jeffs' blood-atonement order is "insane" and doesn't "justify a comment."

"They are idiots up there," Parker said about AG's personnel. "At least they are acting like they are."

Jeffs, who lives in Hildale, which blends seamlessly with Colorado City, houses at least a dozen women he calls wives in a guarded compound featuring several homes the size of hotels. State laws allow individuals only one spouse, so any "wife" beyond that isn't legally attached to the perceived husband. Longtime FLDS observers say Jeffs has more than 30 such "spiritual" spouses, but no one knows for sure.

According to Utah birth certificates, Jeffs fathered children with at least two girls who were 17 at the time they were impregnated and were not his legal wives -- a class-three felony in Utah.


Prophet Investigated

Warren Jeffs may have avoided criminal charges for now, but Utah and Arizona prosecutors are stepping up their investigations of the FLDS under Jeffs' leadership.

Utah is continuing to probe Jeffs' activities with the goal of building a comprehensive criminal case that includes not only sexual-misconduct crimes but financial misdeeds stemming from the prophet's control over property and businesses in the community estimated to be worth more than $100 million.

In Arizona, Attorney General Terry Goddard's office has started a wide-ranging probe of the polygamist enclave, which his predecessors had largely ignored for 50 years. In addition to beginning to seriously investigate girls getting forced into underage marriages, Goddard's office is probing alleged fraud in the Colorado City public school system.

The seriousness of these problems was discovered during a yearlong examination of the polygamist community by New Times and reported in the "Polygamy in Arizona" series, of which this article is a part.

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