Utah’s latest prosecution of a polygamist ended almost before it began.
Jeremy Ortell Kingston pleaded guilty as charged on Thursday to third-degree felony incest.
The victim, LuAnn Kingston, who was 15 when she became her first-cousin’s fourth “wife” in 1995, said Kingston probably had sacrificed himself for the good of the clan.
The plea-bargain deal dispensed with Thursday’s scheduled preliminary hearing, as well as what would have been a highly publicized trial.
Earlier this year, Jeremy Kingston’s uncle, David Ortell Kingston, 37, was released from prison after serving four years for committing incest with a 16-year-old niece. David Kingston was convicted by a jury following a trial that gave a rare glimpse of the secretive Kingston clan‘s inner workings.
Asked by news reporters why he pleaded guilty, Jeremy Kingston, 32, said, “I hope to continue to work and support my children.”
Kingston — who family members say is husband to three wives and father to at least 17 children — now has a better shot at avoiding a zero-to-five-year prison term when he is sentenced Jan. 5 by 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan.
In exchange for his plea, prosecutors will recommend Kingston serve a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Also, the state will not oppose a reduction of the felony to a class A misdemeanor if Kingston successfully completes a 36-month probation.
However, Assistant Utah Attorney General Polly Samuels said the judge is not bound to follow the state’s recommendation for jail instead of prison time.
Asked by the judge to state the facts supporting his plea, Kingston said: “I had a relationship, a sexual relationship, with LuAnn for about four years. That relationship ended about four years ago.”
He added that LuAnn Kingston is “my mom’s sister’s daughter, so she is a first cousin.”
After the hearing, LuAnn Kingston, now 23, said it was “kind of a shock to hear him actually admit to it. He’s never admitted to anything like that before.”
LuAnn Kingston left her marriage to Jeremy Kingston in May 2000, taking with her their two daughters.
She said she went to police hoping to set an example for other polygamous wives. “I felt I had a duty to do something about it,” she said. “Although this won’t put more than a dent in it, I couldn’t live with myself unless I did something.”
She had this message for other plural wives who might be thinking about leaving: “It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in your life, but it’s worth it. I’ve remarried, I’m happy, and my girls are happy.”
Jeremy Kingston was arrested three months ago at the Kingston clan’s annual Pioneer Day celebration in Bountiful, where about 800 family members had gathered.
The estimated 1,200 Kingston family members who make up the Latter Day Church of Christ quietly run numerous businesses — with an estimated worth of $150 million — along the Wasatch Front and elsewhere in Utah
The lid was blown off the reclusive clan in May 1998 when a 16-year-old Kingston girl went to police after being beaten by her father, John Daniel Kingston.
The girl had twice run away after becoming the 15th wife of her uncle David Kingston. To punish the girl, her father took her to a family ranch in northern Utah and whipped her 28 times with a belt before she passed out.
Both her father and uncle were charged with crimes.
John Kingston eventually pleaded no contest to third-degree felony child abuse and was sentenced to 28 weeks in jail.
David Kingston was convicted by a jury of one count each of third-degree felony incest and unlawful sexual contact with a minor.