The alleged bride was underage; the accused denies plural marriage
A man in Box Elder County allegedly took a teenage girl as a plural wife and is believed to be the first person in four years to be charged with bigamy in Utah.
But that’s not the most serious charge the defendant, Gerald P. Roskelley, of Willard, is facing.
The 38-year-old also is charged with four counts of first-degree felony rape that carry the possibility of life in prison.
Documents filed in 1st District Court in Brigham City say Roskelley had a wife, then married another girl under age 18. Documents say the subsequent marriage occurred on or about May 2006 and July 2006.
Box Elder County Attorney Stephen Hadfield said Monday in an interview that the girl was 15 or 16 years old at the time of the marriage and the union “was a spiritual thing.”
“There was some discussion between the two of them about polygamy,” Hadfield said.
Court documents claim the rapes occurred last May and June, possibly after the alleged marriage. Utah law permits rape charges against an adult who has sex with someone under the age of 18.
Roskelley also is charged with a count of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, and witness tampering, a third-degree felony.
Roskelley’s attorney, Gary Gale, said Roskelley has one legitimate wife.
“He is denying any other involvement with ceremonies or weddings or actions of that type,” Gale said. The attorney declined to discuss other facts in the case and said he didn’t know Roskelley’s religious affiliation.
Polygamy was a tenet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until the late 19th century, when the church banned the practice to help Utah achieve statehood. Some breakaway sects continue plural marriage.
Often in those sects, a man marries one woman in a legal ceremony then weds subsequent wives in religious ceremonies. For decades, Utah law enforcement has resisted prosecuting bigamy cases unless the brides are underage. Polygamy supporters sometimes have claimed prosecuting such cases violates their freedom of religion.
One group still practicing polygamy is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, based in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. In 2002, one of the cities’ marshals, Rodney Holm, was charged in Utah with bigamy and counts of unlawful sexual conduct after he entered into a spiritual marriage with a 16-year-old girl.
Holm’s first wife also was charged with bigamy and unlawful sexual conduct, but those charges were dismissed. The case against the couple is thought to be the last time anyone in Utah has been charged with bigamy.
FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is awaiting trial in Washington County on charges of being an accomplice to rape, a first-degree felony. Prosecutors claim Jeffs facilitated a marriage between a teenage girl and an adult man.
Hadfield said police in Willard began investigating Roskelley after they found Roskelley and the girl having sex in the back of a truck. Hadfield said he doesn’t know if Roskelley’s original wife went along with the alleged subsequent marriage, and the woman is not under investigation.
The teenager has cooperated with investigators, Hadfield said. A judge issued a restraining order in September to prevent Roskelley from contacting the girl.
Roskelley is free on bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 16.