Eyes Wide Shut

"This is laughable," scoffs Cindi Nannetti, Maricopa County's sex-crimes bureau chief, as she finishes reading a three-page report prepared by the Colorado City Police Department -- an agency controlled by fundamentalist Mormon polygamists along the Arizona-Utah border.

The report briefly summarizes more than a decade of sex crimes by Dan Barlow Jr., 52, whose father, Dan Barlow Sr., is the longtime mayor and fire chief of Colorado City, a small town on the desolate Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon.

Nannetti certainly isn't laughing over the criminal acts. One of the top sex-crimes prosecutors in the country, she has been directing Maricopa County's investigation into sexual misconduct by Catholic priests for years. She knows good police work, and the Colorado City police report misses the mark.

Nannetti says cases with similar accusations in Maricopa County would result in stacks of evidence two feet high.

Despite its brevity, the Colorado City report, nevertheless, raises some alarming issues.

A two-page synopsis outlines how Barlow molested five of his daughters from the time they were as young as 12 until they were about 19 years old. Barlow would go into their bedrooms, remove their clothing and rub their breasts. With three of the victims, he touched their vaginas. He repeatedly had several of the daughters massage his penis. The events occurred "many, many times," according to the victims' statements in the report.

In a community where underage girls are frequently coerced into polygamous, so-called "spiritual" marriages by religious leaders and where women are taught to obey men without question, the police report notes in a knowing, yet offhand, manner that Barlow used his authority as the girls' father to his advantage.

"Most of the girls told me he used the I am father, trust me' [line] on them to get his way with them," Colorado City Police Chief Sam Roundy wrote in the report.

Unlike more prominent men in town, such as Dan's father -- who are often granted "blessings" of additional young wives by the area's fundamentalist religious leader, or Prophet -- the younger Barlow only had one wife.

He says in court interviews that he preyed on his daughters because he was curious about girls. He relates that he had no contact with teenage girls when he was a young man because of religious sanctions against dating. After he began molesting them, Barlow started considering his daughters surrogate wives.

"I could see them like my wife," he told a court-appointed sex therapist months after a single police interview in December 2001.

Barlow told the therapist he didn't think he was doing anything wrong because he never had sexual intercourse with his daughters.

"He struggled in admitting that there was a sexual intent to his behaviors," the therapist, DeLynn Lamb, stated in her report.

Despite Barlow's admission that he viewed his daughters as "wives," along with his inability to connect his behavior with sexual perversion, there is no indication in the report that the therapist discussed, or even knew, that he grew up in a polygamist community where teenage girls are prized by older men.

The Colorado City police report, Nannetti says, fails to identify the dates of the sexual assaults, which greatly inhibits prosecution. Even more important, she says, is the lack of a videotaped interview of the victims describing their ordeal -- a crucial tool in prosecuting sex crimes, particularly when the perpetrator is related to the victims.

In many cases, victims will recant or seek leniency for their abuser if he is a family member. Four of the five victims and Barlow's wife asked in letters to Mohave County Superior Court that he not be sentenced to state prison. Unlike in jurisdictions where public officials are not overwhelmingly influenced by religious leaders, such sentiment carries great weight.

Barlow was indicted by a grand jury in January 2002 on four felony counts of sexual abuse and one felony count of molestation of a child. If he had been convicted on all four sexual-abuse counts, he could have faced more than 20 years in prison.

The child-molestation charge was even more serious, with the possibility of a 10- to 24-year sentence.

Rather than vigorously pursuing the case to send a signal to Colorado City polygamists that sexual assaults of underage girls will not be tolerated, Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom offered Dan Barlow Jr. a very favorable plea bargain of one felony count of sexual abuse, which the defendant accepted.

State sentencing guidelines suggest a five-year prison sentence. Ekstrom -- despite describing Barlow's crimes as "pretty depraved" -- recommended a sentence of 120 days in county jail, plus probation. He admits that the wishes of the community, including the victims, played a significant role in the sweetheart deal.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty