Polygamy Puzzle

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"We've had our investigators go up there five times," says Burke. "This is not something we have been sitting on. This is something we have been struggling with so goddamned hard to get primary witnesses."

Others -- particularly antipolygamist activists and their political supporters -- say there have been several clear cases in which the Attorney General could have sought indictments in the last two years, but failed to act.

They point to the case of Ruth Stubbs, who was ceremonially married to Colorado City police deputy Rodney H. Holm when she was 16 and had two children before she turned 18. This case was first presented to the Department of Public Safety and Napolitano's office more than two years ago by antipolygamy groups. Stubbs was Holm's third wife. The couple was married in a non-civil ceremony on December 11, 1998, officiated by an FLDS leader.

Utah law enforcement officials finally indicted the 36-year-old Holm earlier this month on charges of bigamy and unlawful sex with a minor. Holm lives in Hildale, Utah, a small town adjacent to Colorado City that also is controlled by the FLDS.

Arizona, however, has not pressed charges in the case, despite evidence showing that Holm had sex with Stubbs in Arizona when she was under 18, notes antipolygamy activist Flora Jessop.

Antipolygamy activists also say it is important for the state to move aggressively because prosecutors in Mohave County are failing to aggressively prosecute child abuse cases coming out of Colorado City.

Earlier this year, 51-year-old Daniel Barlow Jr. pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse and was sentenced to 120 days in jail by Mohave County Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss. Weiss suspended the sentence, granting credit for 13 days Barlow had already spent in jail. Barlow is the son of longtime Colorado City mayor Daniel Barlow Sr.

A Colorado City police report states that Barlow "admitted" that he had sexually molested his five daughters over a period of several years. He admitted to police that he would feel their breasts, rub their vaginas and have his daughters massage his penis. He also admitted that the activities began when the girls were as young as 12 and continued for many years.

"Most of the girls told me he used the I am father, trust me' on them to get his way with them," Colorado City police officer Samuel Roundy states in a December 24, 2001, police report.

Despite the admissions to police, Mohave County prosecutors last April accepted a guilty plea of one count of child abuse after two daughters said they didn't want to testify.

Mohave County prosecutor Matt Smith is quoted as saying that Barlow "probably deserves to go to prison; there's no question about that."

Smith says the county had a strong case and could have proved convictions that would have resulted in mandatory prison time. However, Barlow received strong support from Colorado City leaders, and his victims had written letters asking that he not be sentenced to prison.

Smith, according to news reports, said he crafted the plea agreement based on what the community and victims desired.

The lack of indictments by the Attorney General and leniency by county prosecutors in child abuse cases is angering several Mohave County elected officials.

"It is very frustrating that we can't seem to get very much done," says state Representative Linda Binder, R-Lake Havasu.

Binder has been pressing the legislature and Napolitano's office for nearly two years to take action to stop what she calls "sham marriages" in Colorado City and to put a clamp on the resulting massive amounts of welfare payments that flow into the town to support the large families.

The state Department of Economic Security reports that 283 Colorado City families with 2,592 individuals receive a total of $172,310 a month in food stamp benefits. Slightly more than 77 percent of the town's 3,334 people (according to the 2000 Census) receive food stamps.

Binder gained the support of the American Association of University Women in early 2001. The statewide group with 1,800 members put Colorado City at the top of its agenda and began a letter-writing campaign to Napolitano's office in February 2001, demanding that she take immediate action to stop child abuse and other crimes.

"It is impossible for us, as citizens, and you as Attorney General, to ignore this issue any longer," states a February 27, 2001, letter to Napolitano from AAUW member Joyce M. Strothmann. "It is an outrage to continue to allow the suffering of women and children in the name of religion.'"

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty