Under Siege

Polygamists are barricading their homes in the midst of mounting legal assaults by authorities

The charges against the other five Colorado City men are based only on birth certificates, marriage records and driver's licenses.

In some of these cases, Smith says, the underage girls have been reluctant to testify because of what they fear would happen to them if they aided in prosecuting an FLDS member. Jeffs is quick to ban any member of the church from religious and societal privileges who cooperates with authorities.

In other cases, plural wives will not testify against their husbands because they also believe that engaging in polygamy assures their religious salvation.

An FLDS woman takes notes while CCUSD assistant business manager Oliver Barlow addresses members of the school board.
John Dougherty
An FLDS woman takes notes while CCUSD assistant business manager Oliver Barlow addresses members of the school board.
Flagstaff attorney Bruce Griffen (left) and former Colorado City cop and polygamist Rodney Holm head to court.
John Dougherty
Flagstaff attorney Bruce Griffen (left) and former Colorado City cop and polygamist Rodney Holm head to court.

Named as defendants in the five cases are: Dale Evans Barlow, 47, in connection with his 1999 relationship with then-16-year-old Louisa Johnson; Kelly Fischer, 38, based on his relationship in 2000 with then-16-year-old Jenny Lynn Steed; Vergel Bryce Jessop, 44, based on his relationship in 2000 with then-17-year-old Permelia Bringhurst; Donald Robert Barlow, 49, based on his relationship in 2000 with then-17-year-old Laree Steed; and David Romaine Bateman, 48, in connection with his 2001 relationship with then-17-year-old Midge Steed.

Smith says he chose to pursue charges against the FLDS men despite serious philosophical issues in some instances.

"What do you do with the case where you have a 16-year-old girl who got pregnant but who now is 20 or 21 and has three more kids with the guy?" the county attorney says. "Are you going to send him to prison and rip him away from all the kids in the family? Do you want to send that message?"

Smith clearly wants to send that message:

"People are being indicted and having to come to court. Hopefully, that will have a chilling effect to the point that they will think four or five times, not just twice, before marrying any underage brides."

All the defendants except the fugitive Jeffs are represented by Flagstaff attorney Bruce Griffen, considered one of the state's top sex-crimes defense attorneys. Griffen refuses to disclose his defense strategy or who is paying his fees, estimated by sources to already exceed $150,000.

But recent court filings in Bateman's case show that Griffen will argue that the state lacks evidence to prove where the alleged sexual conduct and conspiracy occurred.

"While the Grand Jury was told that Bateman now lives in Colorado City, and that Bateman and Steed both now have Arizona driver's licenses, the Grand Jury was not told where the act of sex . . . occurred," Griffen states in an August 22 motion to dismiss the charges against Bateman.

The Mohave County criminal indictments are the most sweeping legal action against the fundamentalist community since a 1953 raid on the Arizona side of the Short Creek community (now Colorado City and Hildale) ordered by then-Arizona governor Howard Pyle.

Pyle's effort failed to dislodge the Short Creek fundamentalists who numbered fewer than 250 on this side of the state line. The raid proved to be a political disaster for Pyle after photographs of police taking babies from the arms of fathers turned public sentiment in favor of the polygamists. Pyle was soundly defeated in his bid for reelection, and no Arizona governor has sought to uphold the law when it comes to underage cohabitation in the community since.

Current Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has done little more than place a Child Protective Services worker in Colorado City on a part-time basis.

Utah, which is home to the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, has issued strong rhetoric against legal abuses among the fundamentalists in Hildale but has done little since convicting Rodney Holm in 2003.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has vowed for more than two years that his office would bring criminal charges against Jeffs, whose last known residence was in Hildale, but Shurtleff let Jeffs slip away and that never happened.

The Utah AG's Office has birth records that show Jeffs fathered children with at least two girls who were under 18 years old at the time of conception. In an interview late last year, Shurtleff said he wanted to find stronger cases against Jeffs rather than convicting him on ones that might bring only a short jail sentence.

Shurtleff, like many public officials in Utah, is a member of the mainstream Mormon Church, which assiduously attempts to ignore the fundamentalist Mormons in Colorado City and Hildale. The Salt Lake City church's posture is that it has no connection to the fundamentalists and that it excommunicates anybody who practices polygamy.

Nevertheless, polygamy in Utah and Arizona has roots firmly planted in mainstream Mormon teachings. Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith initiated polygamy as a centerpiece of the theology in the early 19th century. The practice was widely encouraged after his death by his successor, Brigham Young. The Mormon Church banned polygamy in 1890, because the federal government was seeking to disincorporate the church; it was feared that Utah could not gain statehood if the church did not end the practice.

But polygamy continued among some in the mainstream church well into the 20th century. Fundamentalist Mormons embracing what they called "celestial marriage" eventually settled along the isolated Arizona-Utah border in the 1930s.

After Arizona's 1953 raid, the fundamentalists carefully nurtured a public image that family values were paramount in their community. At the same time, the FLDS prophet increased his political power because he could deliver a bloc of several thousand votes to favored politicians.

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1/2 a century?  Waco was the same flavor whacko

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