Mar 28, 2014

Trial begins in FLDS custody case

Spectrum, March 25, 2014
By Kevin Jenkins

ST. GEORGE — A child custody battle between an exiled member of a Southern Utah polygamous church and his church-faithful wives took a turn during the first day of a trial Tuesday when the father was allowed to introduce testimony about alleged sexual abuse by the church’s prophet.

Colorado City resident Lorin Holm filed the civil action in September 2011, eight months after he was informed he had been judged unfaithful by the leadership of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and would have to leave his home and family, which included three wives and more than a dozen children.

Holm is seeking sole custody of his underage children out of concern that his estranged “spiritual wives” could be influenced by religious leaders to allow the children to experience sexual abuse, forced labor or forced exile.
His ex-wives have stated they would not allow harm to come to their children. Court proceedings during the past two years have focused on whether Holm and the women could cooperate in raising Holm’s minor children despite the perception by the FLDS ex-wives that Holm had become a bad influence as an apostate.

Holm is living with his first wife, who left the FLDS church shortly after her husband’s exile and her own investigation into media coverage of church prophet Warren Jeffs, who has been convicted in Utah and Texas on child sexual abuse charges.

Judge James Shumate has consistently defied efforts by Holm’s attorney, Roger Hoole, to introduce evidence or witness statements about the FLDS leadership’s influence on its members out of concern it would create the stereotypical assumption that all members of the church behave and think alike, and that it would potentially lead the court into deciding the validity of the women’s constitutionally protected religious beliefs.

“The culture is not on trial here,” defense attorney Rodney Parker repeated Tuesday. “If you step into that world where you start to pass judgment on the culture, where do you draw the line?”

Shumate signaled he still regarded the case as a “straight” child custody matter as the day began and stalled Hoole’s efforts to present information about Jeffs’ conviction and life sentence in Texas as evidence that children within the FLDS community may still be in danger.

Jeffs reportedly continues to lead the church from prison.
Shumate reminded Hoole that he was not ignorant of the child sexual abuse evidence, however, having presided over the St. George trial in which Jeffs was initially convicted before being sent to Texas for trial on similar charges.
Shumate resolved Hoole’s concerns by ordering that none of the minor children at the heart of the dispute could marry before the age of 18 without the court’s consent.
But as the day progressed and Parker questioned one of Holm’s polygamous wives, Lynda Peine, about the religious teachings in her FLDS household, Shumate allowed the attorneys for Holm and the children to delve deeper into the FLDS leadership’s influence on its members as well.

“At this time, is anyone (in the FLDS church) allowed to get married?” Guardian ad Litem Nadine Hansen asked Peine. “Warren Jeffs said … an apostate is the most dark person on earth. They are a liar from the beginning. … Do you believe that? … Do you believe it desecrates a dedicated home if a mother brings her apostate children into her home?”

Hansen, who was appointed by the court to represent the children in the custody battle, was addressing reports that even the youngest daughters were calling Holm an apostate during the temporary custody visits Shumate ordered last year, despite having been too young to understand the label at the time Holm left his family in response to the church order.

Peine said she encourages her children to respect their father and that she doesn’t know why they would call him an apostate.

Peine acknowledged that she and the family believe in being obedient to “the priesthood,” about which she said refers to Warren Jeffs.

“You’ve also testified that you understand marrying 12-year-olds or 13-year-olds is against the law,” Hoole said. “If there is a conflict between the laws of God given by Warren Jeffs and the laws of the land, which is supreme in your mind? Which would you follow?”

When Peine responded, “The laws of God,” Hoole asked if that meant belief in the prophet Warren Jeffs requires the belief that it’s OK for a 12-year-old girl to have sex.

“He never said that, in my hearing,” Peine said. “I don’t believe it.”
In closing the day’s testimony, Hoole called one of Jeffs’ sisters to the witness stand. The woman tearfully recounted her allegations Jeffs sexually assaulted her on six occasions when he was married and she was 14 years old.

Hoole asked for the testimony to present Peine with a live witness to Jeffs’ behavior, but Peine sat through the testimony with her fingers in her ears.
Hoole also called on one of Holm’s teenage nephews to testify about his exile from the polygamous community after he was caught talking on his cell phone with Holm.

The teen testified FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs called him into his office and played back a recording of the allegedly taped conversation the teen and Holm had on their phones.

Jeffs was served a subpoena to appear at the trial, but he has filed a motion to quash it because it was served to his family in what he is calling an act of “burglary” on his property. He didn’t appear in court Tuesday, claiming a conflict with a medical appointment.

Shumate said he will rule on the motion to quash when the trial continues Thursday morning.