Longform

Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona

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The more she rebelled, the more the system ground on her at every turn. The FLDS assault on her free will, she says, constituted "soul murder."

Pamela's rebellion was costing Martin his shot at the highest levels of heaven. He wasn't going to get another wife if he couldn't control the one he had.

The couple traveled to Laughlin, Nevada, on a trip arranged by town officials to finalize the divorce. But something strange happened. On a walk along the banks of the Colorado River, they talked, and after a passionate night, they reconciled.

"It was one of our best moments," she recalls, saying they felt as if they were rebelling against decades of repression. "We felt like kids again."

Once the elders discovered Pamela and Martin were not divorcing, they were evicted from the home they had built on United Effort Plan property.

Now free from the church and living separately on privately owned land in a beautiful canyon perched above Colorado City, the couple is trying to piece their lives together.

Even though he was diagnosed with cancer and recently underwent brain surgery, Martin is upbeat.

"I'm too busy to die," he said, standing waist deep in a ditch he had just finished digging for a sewer line with his backhoe.

With no need to go through the Prophet anymore, Pamela and Martin say they are dealing with God directly.

"I think for myself," Pam says.

Recalling the FLDS' strong discouragement of television watching, Martin laughs.

"I've got dish," he says.

Get Tough

Few Colorado City women have Pamela Black's courage and stamina.

Most don't even want to consider the option she took which, according to the religion, will turn them into apostates fated to burn in hell.

In the FLDS world, there is nothing lower than an apostate.

"An apostate is the most dark person on earth," says science teacher DeLoy Bateman, himself among the damned.

Bateman says the FLDS considers apostates to be "liars from the beginning, who have made covenants to abide by the laws of God, and have turned traitor to the priesthood, and their own existence. They are led by their master, Lucifer."

Few in Colorado City will risk such a branding.

Particularly women involved in plural marriages. An outspoken female threatens not only her future in the Celestial Kingdom but also that of her sister wives and husband.

With such pressure, it is not surprising that few women are willing to testify in court about the intricacies of fundamentalist Mormon polygamy. Late last winter, several plural wives were brought before a state grand jury convened in Phoenix.

The subpoenaed women included Marsha Barlow, Linda Johnson and Louisa Johnson, who sources said are married to Dale Barlow; and Alison Fischer, LuJean Fischer and her daughter, Jenny Steed, who are reportedly married to Kelly Fischer. The sources in Colorado City said Louisa Johnson and Jenny Steed were married as young teens.

In addition to being labeled apostates, testifying would mean the church could toss them out of their homes and take away their children.

Refusing to testify, however, could lead to contempt of court charges and jail time.

The women didn't testify, their lawyers challenging the legality of the subpoenas.

On February 11, the state Supreme Court rejected their legal argument for refusing to testify, clearing the way for the grand jury to once again subpoena them.

The Colorado City plural wives' defense is being coordinated by Tom Henze, one of Arizona's top defense attorneys, according to sources in the AG's Office. Henze did not respond to telephone messages asking if he was involved in the case.

Tapping top-shelf lawyers is nothing new for the FLDS.

Former Colorado City town attorney David Nuffer, a graduate of Brigham Young University law school, is a past president of the Utah Bar Association.

Earlier this year, Nuffer was named a full-time federal magistrate judge in Utah, where he will oversee pretrial civil and criminal matters. Nuffer's jurisdiction includes Hildale, which merges seamlessly into Colorado City with the state line bisecting the towns along Uzona Avenue. Hildale has many of the community's largest and newest homes, including a fenced, one-block compound for the Prophet and his horde of wives.

The fundamentalist church has long retained Salt Lake City's Snow, Christensen & Martineau, one of Utah's oldest and most politically connected law firms. The firm represents the church in an array of issues mostly focused on defending its steadfast belief that the First Amendment protects its right to practice polygamy.

The FLDS' professed entitlement collides head-on with the Arizona Constitution and United States Supreme Court opinions.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty