Prosecuting plural wives long overdue
SALT LAKE CITY - A polygamist's wife whose younger sister married her husband has been charged with abetting unlawful sexual conduct, an action anti-polygamy activists say was long overdue.

The Utah Attorney General's office on Friday charged Hildale, Utah, police officer Rodney H. Holm, 36, with bigamy and illegal sex with his wife's sister, Ruth Stubbs, who was then 16.

Suzie Stubbs Holm, 36, was charged with aiding and abetting the illicit relationship.

"It's outstanding and incredible this has happened," said Flora Jessop, a Phoenix anti-polygamy activist and former plural wife. "I imagine there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be afraid now. Because there are so many underage girls married in that society."

The Holmses belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members openly practice plural marriage. There are an estimated 30,000 polygamists in many different family clusters living in the West and Canada today.

The Fundamentalist church is a splinter offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which disavowed polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates those who practice plural marriage.

Utah men frequently were prosecuted for polygamy after the ban. In 1953, the governor of Arizona led a raid on the community, then known as Short Creek.

The result was a public-relations disaster; leery authorities avoided further prosecutions until Juab County Attorney David Leavitt's two-year effort to imprison polygamist Tom Green for bigamy and child rape concluded in August.

Leavitt declined to charge any of Green's wives in the case because he considered them victims.

Rowenna Erickson of Tapestry Against Polygamy, an organization started by former polygamist wives, agreed plural wives are victims. But they still bear responsibility, she said.

"Why not charge them?" Erickson said. "Maybe this will help the women to wake up and say, 'I'm accountable.' "

Rodney Holm, a police officer in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where most of the church members live, is accused of having sex with the girl on at least three occasions.

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.

In sworn affidavits, attorney general investigator Ron Barton said he learned of the illegal sex through child-custody papers and interviews with Ruth Stubbs, who has left Holm and lives in Arizona.

The Holms' attorney, Rod Parker, who also represents the Fundamentalist church, said Holm's marriage to the girl wasn't forced, and that the girl's parents consented to the arrangement. Though not legally married, they considered their 1998 wedding valid according to their faith, Parker said.

But prosecutors say crimes against children should be prosecuted without considering "beliefs." Plural marriages with underage girls don't happen without the pressure and assistance of other people.

In this case, prosecutors say, it was Ruth's older sister, Suzie, who told her it was her godly duty to marry Holm. Few 16-year-olds could stand up to an entire community; in closed societies, the pressure is combined with ignorance of other communities' mores.

Filing charges against Suzie Holm is "incredibly insightful," Jessop said. "It is not only holding the man responsible but holding the other adults in the home responsible for not reporting child abuse."

Jessop, whose family was among the founders of Short Creek in 1935, fled Hildale-Colorado City when she was 16. Jessop's uncle, Fred Jessop, is one of two men thought likely to become the church's next president. He was present at Rodney and Ruth Holm's wedding, officiated by now-deceased church president Rulon Jeffs.

Suzie Holm's prosecution is "a groundbreaking case," Flora Jessop said. "People don't understand this has nothing to do with religion. It's a human rights violation, a civil rights violation."
Tha Associated Press
Originally published October 8, 2002