Jury selected in trial of polygamous police officer

Associated Press, Aug. 12, 2003
By DEBBIE HUMMEL, Associate Press Writer

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) – With emotions ranging from embarrassment and sadness to frustration, Ruth Stubbs took the stand Tuesday in the trial of her former husband, who is charged with bigamy and illegal sexual activity.

Rodney Holm, 37, a polygamous police officer, is accused of having sex with Stubbs when she was 16. Stubbs said she was Holm’s third wife. State law bans sexual relations involving 16- and 17-year-olds when their partner is 10 or more years older, unless the couple is legally married.

Holm was 32 when he allegedly took Stubbs as a ”spiritual” wife, which is not a legal marriage.

Wearing jeans and a casual shirt, Stubbs – 21 and considered a reluctant witness for the prosecution – began her testimony by answering prosecutor Kristine Knowlton’s questions regarding her upbringing and how she came to marry Holm.

Stubbs said she wasn’t raised with a strong religious background but started attending what’s known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when she became interested in a man, not Holm, who was a member of that church.

Through her sister, Suzie, who is married to Holm, Stubbs asked that he set up a meeting with Rulon Jeffs, then prophet of the FLDS church. Stubbs wanted to ask about marrying the man, whom she did not name in court.

After that meeting and a second meeting in 1998, Jeffs told Stubbs that he prophesied that she should marry Holm instead, Stubbs testified.

”I just cried,” Stubbs said of her reaction to Jeffs’ prophecy.

Stubbs and Holm were married the next day. They had two children before she turned 18. Stubbs’s sister, Pennie Petersen, said Monday that Stubbs has ”a lot of pressure from where she’s spent her whole life. They hope she’ll do the right thing and protect the town.”

When Knowlton’s questions turned to how Stubbs was asked by Holm not to tell people from outside the community about their relationship, Stubbs turned angry and defiant.

”Why does this matter?” she asked at one point.

Stubbs left Holm on Dec. 9, 2001. She said she had been thinking about leaving throughout the three years she spent with him and was ”scared” and ”happy in one way” when she finally left.

The charges against Holm stemmed from a child custody dispute between Holm and Stubbs. During the custody hearing, Holm invoked his Fifth Amendment rights when asked about having sexual relations with Stubbs when she was a teenager.

The bigamy and illegal sex charges were filed against Holm last October.

In cross examination Tuesday, Holm’s attorney, Max Wheeler, asked Stubbs about Holm’s reaction to Jeffs’ prophecy. Holm, Stubbs testified, asked Jeffs if his decision was right and acted surprised. She said he didn’t pressure her into the marriage and even gave her the option of rejecting it.

Wheeler then began asking about the religious atmosphere of the family – which included Stubbs, Holm, his two other wives and their children, which numbered ”about 20,” Stubbs said. The family regularly attended church, Stubbs said, and Holm often read from scripture at home.

Wheeler then brought up section 132 of ”The Doctrine and Covenants” – the book of the religious revelations of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – and asked Stubbs if she was taught that ”plural marriage was a commandment from God.”

Knowlton quickly objected before Stubbs could answer.

Wheeler said he was trying to explain why people in the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., practice plural marriage. It’s not because of sinister motives, as the prosecution was inferring, he said.

Fifth District Judge G. Rand Beacham then recessed the trial until Wednesday, without Stubbs answering the question.

But Beacham then warned Wheeler to avoid any more questions that would suggest the family had religious beliefs that trumped state law. Wheeler agreed, and said he would resume his cross-examination of Stubbs on Wednesday.

Earlier Tuesday in opening statements, Assistant Attorney General Paul Graf said the victims in the polygamous marriage between Holm and Stubbs aren’t just the children born to them – Stubbs is as well.

Graf said Ruth Stubbs was also just a child when she married Holm at 16.

”You’ll realize how at risk she was, not only because of her chronological age, but her emotional maturity,” Graf told the nine-member jury seated Tuesday morning.

Wheeler responded in his opening statement, that the case was far from simple; most people who know the history of Utah also know its history of polygamy is complex.

”This case involves strongly held beliefs and state laws that encroach on strongly held beliefs,” Wheeler said. ”We will show Mr. Holm is not some sexual predator, he’s not some deviant.”

Five women and four men were picked for the jury – eight members and an alternate.

Holm, who wore a gray suit and sat up straight during most of Tuesday’s proceedings, is a police officer in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Most of the towns’ residents are members of the polygamous FLDS church.

The 11 million-member Mormon church abandoned polygamy a century ago and now excommunicates those who advocate it. The Utah Constitution bans polygamy, but it is believed tens of thousands of residents adhere to the belief.

The trial is expected to last through the week.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday August 13, 2003.
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