Polygamist Green wants a private, quiet life after Tuesday parole

Polygamist Tom Green will walk out of the Utah State Prison on Tuesday a changed man, he says, if not an entirely free one.

After serving six years for bigamy, criminal nonsupport and child rape, he wants to quietly rejoin his family: his legal wife, Linda Kunz Green; three other women; and his 30 or so children, 20 of whom are under 18. He’ll be on parole and under state scrutiny.

“My intention is to live a private, quiet life taking care of my family and avoiding the media,” Green said in a statement released by the prison.

His long-ago penchant for boasting about his lifestyle and religious beliefs on national TV may be gone, but there is no quelling the chain reaction it helped trigger among government officials and fundamentalist Mormons.

For state authorities, Green’s case put prosecution of abusive practices among polygamists back on the agenda after a nearly 50-year hiatus.

Green sent fundamentalist Mormons in two different directions: Scurrying for cover or into the public forum to defend and distance their practices from his.

‘A soldier in the fight’

Since the 1950s, when authorities in Utah and Arizona executed several crackdowns on polygamy – including the infamous 1953 raid on Short Creek – fundamentalist Mormons had tried to keep a low profile.

Not Green.

Beginning in the late 1980s, he touted his beliefs to such shows as “Dateline NBC,” “Queen Latifah,” “The Jerry Springer Show” and “The Sally Jesse Raphael Show.”

Green told “Dateline NBC” he was a “soldier in the fight for religious freedom” as he shared details of faith and family, who often were on the set with him. He talked openly about how he circumvented Utah law by marrying and then divorcing his wives – including a stepdaughter Green spiritually married and impregnated when she was 13 – so he was never legally married to more than one woman at a time.

Juab County Attorney David Leavitt once told The Salt Lake Tribune he “did not know Green existed until he saw him bragging on ‘Dateline NBC’ about his living arrangements.”

Neither did Mark Shurtleff, who in 2000 had just taken office as Utah’s attorney general. “It absolutely was the catalyst for my involvement,” Shurtleff said of Green. Polygamy was on the state’s radar, following a 1998 belt-whipping incident involving John Daniel Kingston and one of his daughters, who had balked at becoming the 15th wife of an uncle.

And Shurtleff’s predecessor, Jan Graham, had reached out to polygamous groups, holding a historic meeting with the Salt Lake County-based Apostolic United Brethren in 1998. Graham vowed to focus on crimes within the closed communities while extending social services to them.

Starting with Green, Shurtleff made that agenda his own.

“That led to our whole focus and the policy we established,” he said. “It was not going to be about polygamy but child abuse, sex abuse and other crimes committed in name of religion.”

Prosecuting polygamy

In 2000, after a yearlong investigation, Leavitt decided to prosecute Green and turned to Shurtleff for money and investigators. The investigators told Shurtleff that “the practice of underage marriage was widespread, particularly with the FLDS.”

Two of Green’s teen brides had come from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the sect based in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and now led by Warren S. Jeffs.

“They said there were a lot of girls being forced to marry older guys, not just this one case,” Shurtleff said. “The next step was talking with county attorneys, particularly the Washington County attorney, as to why we were letting that go on.”

Leavitt won a bigamy conviction against Green by successfully asserting the women were his common-law wives, which fell under Utah’s unique statute that holds “purporting” to be married as the equivalent of being legally married.

He also used an innovative approach to win Green’s child rape conviction, necessary because of Linda Kunz Green’s refusal to testify against her husband. Leavitt instead used her birth certificate and that of her firstborn child to prove she was 13 at conception.

Arizona authorities have used the same tactic in the past year to prove sexual misconduct cases against several FLDS men.

In August 2002, Shurtleff and other state authorities met with FLDS leaders in a pivotal showdown over their marriage practices. The first bigamy charges against an FLDS member – Rodney Holm – soon followed.

‘A major change’

Today, Shurtleff said that, thanks to Green, the state has accomplished a lot.


The FLDS is also considered to be a cult of Christianity. Sociologically,the group is a high-control cult.

“The FLDS situation has changed entirely and will change more if Warren Jeffs is convicted,” he said.

Jeffs is awaiting trial on two felony accomplice to rape charges related to a marriage he allegedly conducted in 2001 between a 19-year-old man and his 14-year-old cousin, who objected to the union.

Shurtleff said those who break away from Jeffs’ sect no longer face being kicked out of their homes, as a result of the state’s takeover of the United Effort Plan Trust. It holds virtually all property in the twin towns.

More important is this: “I believe, from what we can tell, that the practice of child bride marriages stopped completely or has been greatly reduced,” Shurtleff said. “You have had polygamous sects come out and say that is not permitted in their churches, you have to be an adult to marry. That is a major change.”

And this: Leaders in polygamous sects now understand, Shurtleff said, that they can no longer get away with crimes against women and children.

“I think they all understand they can’t do that with impunity, where there was a time I think they thought they were untouchable,” he said.

Standing up

State authorities weren’t the only ones watching Green on TV.

Susie Timpson, a fundamentalist Mormon who lives in the polygamous community of Centennial Park, Ariz. – just down State Road 59 from Jeffs’ sect – remembers seeing the Green family on “The Sally Jesse Raphael Show.”

Raphael was presenting the Green children with a big teddy bear and raving about their good manners.

“We were sitting there watching, because it was the biggest no-no to talk to the media,” Timpson said. “We were thinking, ‘Isn’t that nice?’ ”

But they grew worried as Green revealed more about his particular practice of polygamy.

“We didn’t feel he was speaking for us . . . and then it came out he had married a 13-year-old girl, which is something we don’t believe in at all,” she said. “It made us want to stand up for ourselves.”

So did news about arranged marriages and teen brides in the FLDS community.

Green’s prosecution, covered by media from around the world, also resurrected old fears of the 1953 raid, when families were split up as Arizona authorities tried to rout polygamy, she said.

Some fundamentalist Mormons felt a greater need than ever to hide. Others moved to counteract “negative” coverage of polygamous communities.

With Green as the “lightning rod,” fundamentalist Mormons took a “position that polygamists had not taken for the last 50 years, 60 years, 100 years, of speaking out and being vocal,” said Brian Barnard, a Salt Lake City civil rights attorney.

“Although his case may have had some negative aspects to it, it caused other people to come forward,” he said. “People decided, ‘Yeah, we need to do something. Maybe being quiet in the background isn’t a good idea.’ ”

Beyond Green

In 2000, pro-polygamy activists Anne Wilde, Mary Batchelor and Marianne Watson published Voices in Harmony, essays from 100 women in defense of plural marriage. Three years later, they formed Principle Voices, an advocacy group, and began networking with other fundamentalists and sects.

Advocates turned to the media to help spread the message they do not condone underage or arranged marriage and their belief that religiously based plural marriage can be a healthy lifestyle choice for consenting adults.

“We highly recommend boys and girls are at least 18 before they get married, in monogamy or plural marriage,” Wilde said.

While the parallel crackdown and defense of plural marriage triggered by Green continue, he is likely to watch from the sidelines. The Board of Pardons and Parole emphasized that point at his July 17 special parole hearing.

Said board member Keith Hamilton: “You get on TV again, you commit bigamy again, you marry someone under legal age and if you ever come back and I’m a member of this parole board, you come back on a first-degree [felony], you might never get out of prison again.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday August 6, 2007.
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