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Neither side could present evidence during their opening arguments, so the differing images they painted of the city and the Cooke family will be teased out over the course of the trial, which is expected to last as long as eight weeks.
The Cookes’ attorneys called Richard Holm as a witness Wednesday to confirm their view of the story. Holm was a member of the FLDS Church in the past and was appointed to the Colorado City Council in 1985 — the year the town was incorporated. Holm testified that Leroy Johnson, then the leader of the FLDS Church, was involved in his appointment to the council, which he served on for 19 years without ever being opposed in an election.
Holm went on to say that all the members of the city council were FLDS members and chosen with the blessing of church leadership.
Eventually, in 2003, Jeffs kicked Holm out of the church and reassigned his two wives to Holm’s younger brother. At one point, attorneys for the city objected to the line of questioning that prompted Holm to tell the story of his expulsion.
Walker countered: "These were the hammers that were being used by religion to force counsel members to do what they wanted."
The judge allowed the questioning to continue.
Holm later described buying a piece of land in the community that turned out not to have any utilities hooked up to it. Holm reached out to the mayor to get utilities and was told the state had put a moratorium on new water hook ups due to a sewer issue. Several months passed and the story changed to a water shortage, Holm testified. Then, when he obtained water rights and offered to supply the city with water, he was told he and the trust had illegally divided the land.
The city eventually filed a lawsuit against Holm and the trust over the subdivision. The case only wrapped up when Holm finally bought the other section of land, rendering the subdivision issue moot.
Following opening arguments, Issac Wyler took the stand as the first witness in the trial. Wyler, a former member of the FLDS Church who now works for Wisan, said the religion changed dramatically when Jeffs took over.
"It was a drastic change," Wyler testified. "It was a 180-degree change from when I grew up."
Among other things, Wyler said, Jeffs canceled many social activities and forbade church members from talking to "apostates," or those who had been kicked out of the religion.
Wyler also described being kicked out of the FLDS Church in January of 2004, along with 20 other men. The group of men were told to leave immediately, without saying goodbye to their families, and to give Warren Jeffs a list of all their sins. All but two men complied, Wyler said, and he was one of them.
Significantly, the mayor of Colorado City and a town councilman were also among the exiled group. Both men complied with Jeffs’ orders, Wyler said, and new FLDS loyalists were appointed to their positions in the city governments. The appointments were apparently unsurprising to Wyler, even though the positions were technically for elected officials.
"The elections are unopposed because they’ve been chosen by the prophet," Wyler explained of the political process in Short Creek. "The people in the church are told who to vote for."
Kane and Wyler also went through a series of photos together Wednesday afternoon. The photos showed various different buildings and construction projects, and Wyler said they all had water hookups, despite having been built after the Cookes arrived and during the alleged water shortage.
However, during cross examination, Hamilton asked Wyler if he had ever worked for the towns’ utility companies or seen a list of pre-existing water hookups. Hamilton’s point was that the new projects were compliant with city policy — which he earlier argued the Cookes could have chosen to obey — and therefore got water.
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