Criminal Justice

Polygamy Cases Fizzle; Religious Bias?

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After two years, criminal cases brought in Arizona against eight men in the same polygamous sect for allegedly marrying underage girls are nearing an end.

Three have been convicted—and sentenced to jail sentences ranging from one day to nine months. A fourth was acquitted, and charges were dropped against two others, reports the Associated Press. The seventh defendant has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor (he had not yet been sentenced at press time) and the eighth is still facing trial.

This, obviously, was not quite the result prosecutors were hoping for when they took on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a fringe Mormon group in which plural marriage is a relatively common practice. However, such cases are challenging because of the difficulty of getting victims to cooperate with prosecution, and authorities say they believe they represent an important first step toward imposing the rule of law on the religious group’s members.

However, attorney Bruce Griffen, who represents the eight defendants, says they believe they were targets of religious persecution. Meanwhile, at least several continue to lead the same lives they led before the cases began, he notes.

“These are intact families,” Griffen says. “They continue to live together and have multiple children and have no inclination of changing their family structures.”

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