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Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman has not disclosed the nature of their investigation publicly and a message left for him Friday was not immediately returned.
Buhman’s office has no stated policy related to the prosecution of polygamists.
On Friday, Jensen said the attorney general’s office policy is to only file bigamy charges against a polygamist in connection with other crimes, such as underage marriages, child abuse or welfare fraud. A straight bigamy prosecution hasn’t been filed in Utah for more than 50 years, Jensen said.
A check of state court records by The Associated Press, however, found at least two cases.
Bob Foster had three wives when he was arrested and charged with bigamy in 1974. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six months in jail. He was released after 21 days and ordered to serve five years of probation. A judge also said Foster was not allowed to live with his families. Foster died from cancer in 2008. He was still married to all three women.
Mark Easterday was arrested and charged with bigamy in 1999. Authorities were alerted to Easterday’s multiple marriage as part of a custody battle during his divorce from his first wife. He ultimately pleaded no contest to adultery because the divorce was finalized before the bigamy case went to trial. Easterday was sentenced to probation.
Easterday, who left Utah and is currently married to two women, told The Associated Press he believes the Browns are right to fear a bigamy prosecution.
“I know from experience that they do prosecute,” Easterday said. I think they should change the law over the entire country. Why it is that in some places a woman and a woman can be married, but a man can’t have another wife?”
Polygamy in Utah and across much of the Intermountain West is a legacy of 19th century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons abandoned the practice of plural marriage in the 1890s as a condition of Utah’s statehood and now excommunicates members found engaging in polygamy.
An estimated 38,000 self-described Mormon fundamentalists continue the practice, believing it brings exaltation in heaven. Most keep their way of life a secret.
Typically, polygamous men are legally married to their first wives and wed subsequent brides only in religious ceremonies. The couples consider themselves “spiritually married.”
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