Man charged with stalking Mormon church president ordered to stand trial

Published: Tuesday, July 26 2011 2:40 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A homeless man charged with stalking President Thomas S. Monson believed that the leader of the LDS Church was "the only one who could solve my problems," witnesses testified Tuesday.

Following a preliminary hearing, Benjamin Tucker Staples, 36, was ordered to stand trial on one count of stalking, a class A misdemeanor, by 3rd District Judge Ann Boyden.

Three witnesses testified that Staples would routinely go to the LDS Church Office Building asking for the church leader.

"I need to see President Monson," LDS Church security guard Erin Rampton recalled Staples saying. "He is the only one who can solve my problems."

She said Staples told her the problems he alluded to involved custody of his children. But Salt Lake police officer Nicholas Telles said Staples gave him a very different reason for needing to speak with the president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"(Staples) believes he is Jesus Christ and President Monson is the only person who can help him on his journey," Telles recounted. "He said that it was ironic that Jesus would be arrested for stalking the prophet."

In as many as five separate incidents between June 27 and July 8, Staples went to the lobby of the Church Office Building at 50 E. North Temple asking for President Monson.

Church security officer Kenneth Johnson said that on one occasion, he reminded Staples of a trespassing notice preventing him from entering the building for six months and asked him to leave.

"He wanted to be arrested," Johnson said. "He had previously been arrested the day before for the same thing and he twice prayed about it and was told he needed to return to the Church Office Building."

When Staples was told his Book of Mormon would be taken from him if he were to be arrested, Staples left.

Johnson and Rampton both said Staples was generally calm and reasonable. But the man could become argumentative and "delusional," according to Johnson, who cited references Staples made to having visions.

"When people show up, like Brother Staples, and refuse to accept our advice to go to an ecclesiastical leader, and become a persistent nuisance, … speaks of receiving guidance outside normal channels, we become concerned," Johnson said.

Staples never made threats or carried weapons, aside from a folding pocketknife, each witness confirmed. But Rampton said his behavior seemed to be escalating.

"I am concerned for the safety of people on campus," she said. "Certainly President Monson, but just in general. (Staples) just walks in and I don't know if he has a weapon. I don't know if he's going to flip out one of these days. He's shown signs he's capable of that."

Johnson said Staples had previously worked "on a consistent basis" at the Bishop's Storehouse at Welfare Square and was "a good worker there" before getting into an argument with another individual that led to an assault.

Before the hearing began, Salt Lake City attorney Scott Fisher told Boyden there might be a question about Staples' competency, but his attorney Caleb Cunningham told the judge he had "no concerns."

Telles said he found Staples to be "very compliant, very understanding" and described the man as articulate and smart. Staples was also undeterred by jail time.

"There was nothing other than actually being able to contact President Monson — there was nothing we or anyone else could do — that would stop him," Telles said.

An arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 18. 

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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