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U.S. justices deny review of conviction for bigamy

Published February 27, 2007 1:49 am

Writ had argued that such prohibitions are outdated; the man's third 'wife' was 16
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a Utah polygamist's request that it review his bigamy conviction.

The court's refusal to hear an appeal by Rodney H. Holm leaves intact a May 2006 ruling by the Utah Supreme Court that found the polygamist could be prosecuted for bigamy even if his plural marriages did not receive state sanction.

Holm, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, took Ruth Stubbs as his third wife in 1998. At the time, he was 32 and Stubbs was 16. Stubbs later left the spiritual marriage.

A former police officer, Holm was convicted in August 2003 of two counts of unlawful sex with a minor and one count of bigamy. He spent a year in jail.

Holm's writ argued that the Supreme Court's 128-year-old Reynolds ruling, which banned polygamy, is outdated, given modern relationships and more recent rulings on liberty and privacy rights.

It challenged the right of states to regulate relationships that occur outside marriage, and said Utah unfairly targets polygamists in its bigamy prosecutions.

A dissent by Chief Justice Christine Durham found Utah's bigamy statute unconstitutional, given the high court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which prohibits government intrusion in intimate relationships involving consenting adults.

Individuals and groups who identify themselves as fundamentalist Mormons helped pay for Holm's petition. They consider plural marriage a tenet of faith and hoped Durham's dissent might help bring a challenge of polygamy bans before the high court.

“We do not agree that a man who doesn't legally engage in marriage should be prosecuted and charged with bigamy,” said Mary Batchelor, a founding member of the advocacy group Principle Voices.

The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publicly disavowed polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates anyone who espouses or practices it.

Rod Parker, Holm's attorney, acknowledged that Stubbs' age was an obstacle, even though it was not a factor in his client's bigamy conviction.

“There will be better opportunities in the future,” Parker said. "The issue was an important one that needs to be addressed.”

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Monday that "it is very clear no one has the constitutional right to this type of behavior." Added prosecutor Laura Dupaix, “We think it was the right thing to do because it involved a minor."

She added, "We have been dealing with this case for so long, it's nice to have it over - particularly because we think the Utah Supreme Court got it right.”

Fundamentalist Mormons now are looking to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is deciding whether a Salt Lake County clerk properly denied a marriage license to a married couple who wanted to add a second wife. Analysts have said the case is unlikely to succeed because of its focus on the regulation of marriage, a right that clearly rests with states.

The FLDS church that Holm belongs to is based in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., but has enclaves in Nevada, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, Idaho and other states, as well as British Columbia. The church has 6,000 to 8,000 members.

Its president, Warren S. Jeffs, is scheduled to go on trial April 23 on two charges of being an accomplice to rape for arranging a marriage between an underage girl and a 19-year-old man.