Under Siege

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The other two felony charges against Jeffs stem from his conducting the 2001 spiritual marriage between then-20-year-old Terry Darger Barlow and 15-year-old Cynthia Palmer and ordering the couple to procreate.

If convicted on all seven felony counts, Jeffs could face up to 14 years in prison. Because the leader polygamists believe is God's only true spokesman faces a possible lengthy prison sentence, many insist that the fundamentalist faithful will not give him up without a fight.

"It all depends on how we catch him," says Mohave County special investigator Engels, who has spent more than a year living in the Colorado City area investigating crimes. "Does he have bodyguards? Yes. Are they armed? Yes. Will they put their lives down for him? Yes."

The cases against Jeffs and the three co-defendants are the strongest of the nine actions, County Attorney Smith says, because either victims or witnesses have appeared before the grand jury or given sworn statements to investigators.

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.

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.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty