Calling a newly released book written by two New York attorneys "a piece of junk," U.S. Attorney Brent Ward has angrily accused the authors of writing sensationalized lies about his role in the Mark W. Hofmann case.
Shaking his finger at authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Ward criticized them for failing to do their homework in their portrayal of him and his office. "I'm telling you, you don't know what you're talking about. I feel like the victim of a hit-and-run accident by a couple of hit men from Harvard who were anxious to make money out of a sensational case."Naifeh and Smith are in Salt Lake City as part of their national tour promoting their book, "The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death." The story revolves around the October 1985 bombing murders of Steven Christensen and Kathleen Sheets, and the man who confessed to the murders - Hofmann.
The authors, both graduates of Harvard Law School, answered questions about the controversial text and tone of their book during a Thursday afternoon session of the Sunstone Symposium. The symposium, which continues through Saturday at the University Park Hotel, is sponsored by the private Sunstone Foundation.
The reference in the book that infuriated Ward states, "One thing was obvious from the moment the (LDS) church got involved in the case: Brent Ward had no intention of prosecuting anybody for anything related to the bombings.
"Brent Ward's got motives above and beyond the law. Do you think a good Mormon in the U.S. attorney's office is going to hesitate for one minute deciding to do what's correct for the law or what's best for the church?"
Confronting Naifeh and Smith, Ward said he was incensed by the inference that he was being controlled by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"If I was politically ambitious, as you so irresponsibly suggest, I would have wanted to prosecute that case. It was absolutely wrong to suggest that I did not want to. Can you tell me why I would want to prosecute a bombing when the state had a murder case with the possibility of capital penalty?"
Ward insisted it would have been irresponsible to prosecute the Hofmann case at a federal level because of the more significant murder case being handled by the Salt Lake County attorney's office.
But Naifeh and Smith did not back down. They maintained that Ward would not prosecute the case "because the (LDS) church did not want it prosecuted."
Curt Bench, who had been interviewed earlier by the authors, joined Ward in bitter criticism of the book, saying, "Had many of those interviewed known the end results, they wouldn't have been so cooperative." Bench denounced the authors for taking "unfair jabs" at the LDS Church and for their sarcastic, demeaning tone in the book.
Bench asked how the authors justified revealing the contents of sacred LDS Temple ceremonies in the book. Why was it necessary and pertinent to the story of Hofmann? he asked.
Naifeh and Smith said the temple ceremony helped readers understand Hofmann's religious background.
The authors conceded that they concentrated on the "less flattering aspects of church history" in their book. Justifying this approach, Smith said, "Mark Hofmann was interested in making up documents that called upon those unflattering aspects of the Mormon Church. We were telling those incidents that were critical to understanding Hofmann."
When asked how they concluded in their book that LDS leader Joseph Smith had decided in 1839 "the punishment for dissent in his church would be death," the authors stated they understood the history in that way. If they were wrong, they will correct the error, they said.
Their explanation of the historical setting of the blacks receiving the priesthood was also challenged. The authors imply the revelation, which was received in 1978, was based on athletic competition between Stanford University and Brigham Young University.
In their book, they state, "In the 1970s, a Stanford University official declared that if the BYU basketball team ever wanted to play Stanford again, the Mormon Church would have to `reinterpret God's word and establish doctrines compatible with Stanford's policies.' After a decent interval, the Prophet did have a new revelation reversing the Church's position on blacks."
To that criticism, Smith responded, "It is fair to say that the book is not a long, balanced view of Mormon history. It is not a book that presents perspectives and tries to make sense of them."
One Sunstone participant accused Naifeh and Smith of displaying bias in their writing and open hostility toward Mormonism at all levels. The authors promote their book as revealing "the truth" regarding the LDS Church's "manipulation" of the Hofmann case and the media coverage surrounding it.
Naifeh and Smith denied having any personal grudge against the church or intent to discredit its members.
Smith said, "There is no question that the church leaders do not come off well in this book. We will not try to hide that. They come off very badly. But the on-the-street, average Mormon comes off very well in this book."