- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2001

SALT LAKE CITY Tom Green has five wives and 25 children, a fact that he has admitted repeatedly in interviews and on national television. So convicting him on bigamy charges should be a snap, right?
Not necessarily. When Utah's best-known polygamist goes on trial today on four counts of felony bigamy and criminal nonsupport charges, much depends on whether the jury regards him as an unrepentant lawbreaker or a devoted husband and father trying to practice the tenets of his faith without government interference.
"Bigamy implies fraud, but there are no secrets between Tom and these wives. They all know about each other, they all live together," said David Zolman, a former Republican legislator who has defended the rights of polygamists. "This one is just too close to call."
Whatever the outcome, the case is expected to have far-reaching consequences for the states roughly 30,000 polygamists. A guilty verdict is expected to push polygamists further into the shadows, while a ruling in Mr. Green's favor could bring polygamists out of the closet and into the courtrooms to demand the freedom to practice their faith openly.
"The risk the county attorney is running is that if a jury acquits on all counts, well, Katie, bar the door," Mr. Zolman said. "People are going to say, 'Why have these laws if we cant enforce them?"
Mr. Green, 52, who becomes the first polygamist to go on trial in Utah in more than 50 years, drew the attention of Juab County District Attorney David O. Leavitt after promoting his lifestyle on "Judge Judy" and other television shows. A fundamentalist Mormon who lives with his wives and children on a remote ranch called Greenhaven in rural Juab County, Mr. Green faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted on the bigamy charges.
Fourth District Court Judge Guy Burningham moved the trial from Nephi to Provo over security concerns. Mr. Green faces an additional charge of child rape he married his first wife when she was 13, a year younger than the age of consent in a separate trial later this year.
The Utah constitution and state law both ban polygamy, although the laws are rarely invoked against the states roughly 30,000 practicing polygamists. Such laws are difficult to enforce because most polygamists enter into legal marriages with their first wives only, then marry the others in nonbinding "commitment ceremonies."
In Mr. Greens case, he would marry one wife, then divorce her before marrying another. But a judge nullified one of Mr. Greens divorces, leaving him vulnerable to bigamy charges. Mr. Green has denounced his prosecution as a "witch hunt" designed to punish him for speaking out on his beliefs and lifestyle instead of keeping quiet like most of the states polygamists.
"Dont we have the right of free speech in this country?" he asked at a news conference last week.
In Utah, polygamy has come under fire over the past year amid accusations of sexual abuse and incest within some of the states large clans. The state Legislature has attempted to crack down on polygamy with the so-called "Child Bride Law," signed into law last month, and by approving a special investigator in the state Attorney Generals Office to probe abuses within the clans.
But some polygamists have fought back, accusing lawmakers of trying to infringing upon their religious beliefs in an effort to clean up the states image before the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. In December, three fundamentalist Mormon women published a book, "Voices in Harmony," featuring quotes from 100 women living happily in plural marriage.
The trial has taken center stage in Utah in part because the prosecutor is the brother of Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt. In a tweak to the prosecution, Mr. Greens attorney, John Bucher, tried unsuccessfully last week to put the governor on the defenses witness list because he once said that polygamy may be protected by the federal Constitution.
The Leavitts are descended from early Mormon pioneers who were themselves polygamists.


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