SAN ANGELO, Texas As the attorney general of Texas hints at prosecuting Fundamentalist LDS Church members at the YFZ Ranch for bigamy, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff met with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and representatives from the Division of Child and Family Services to talk about the polygamy issue in Utah.
"They were on the same page, that we'd go after the most serious crimes," Paul Murphy, the Utah Attorney General's Safety Net coordinator who works with polygamous communities, said of last week's meeting.
"We are prosecuting people for child abuse, domestic violence and fraud. I haven't heard them chomping at the bit that they want to prosecute people for polygamy," he told the Deseret News Thursday.
Prosecuting polygamy itself is a complex proposition, even though Utah has secured a pair of convictions for bigamy (as an enhancement to cases involving child brides).
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is hinting at the possibility of bigamy prosecutions here. In national TV interviews, Abbott said some women from the FLDS Church's Eldorado ranch, who have spoken to news reporters, appeared to have admitted to bigamy.
"Questions were made to those women, and I think those women need to be asked some other questions," Abbott told the Fox News Channel. "The women were asked on national TV if they were married to men who were also married to other women, and they answered yes. That's a violation of Texas bigamy laws."
Abbott said the women have all declined to answer questions about underage marriages at the YFZ Ranch.
When contacted by the Deseret News on Thursday, the Texas Attorney General's Office would not say if it was actively pursuing a bigamy prosecution.
"Our office has been in frequent communication with law enforcement and prosecutors handling this case," said Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland. "However, at this time we wouldn't disclose the nature of those conversations nor discuss any ongoing criminal investigations."
Texas law precludes the Attorney General's Office from getting involved in most local criminal prosecutions without a request from local prosecutors, Strickland said. The attorney general has offered his office's assistance to the Tom Green County District Attorney's Office, which is handling the huge FLDS child custody case.
"However, we are not involved in the prosecution of any offense at this point," Strickland said.
Abbott defended the decision to remove the 416 children from the YFZ Ranch, saying the children were in immediate risk, given the allegations that young women were at risk of being sexually assaulted by older men.
An attorney who has represented the FLDS Church was critical of Abbott's comments.
"I thought that the bigamy law was designed to protect women who are victims of a fraudulent marriage," said Rod Parker, a spokesman for the FLDS. "If he (Abbott) intends to prosecute these women, then he is prosecuting the victims he is trying to protect."
In Utah, prosecutors have only charged bigamy as an enhanceable offense when pursuing other crimes within polygamy. The Utah Attorney General's Office said such prosecutions are monumental tasks.
"We have decided to investigate and prosecute the crimes affecting the most vulnerable people, and that's mostly children," Murphy said.
Utah's attorney general has said that to go after polygamy alone could cripple the state's child welfare system with thousands of parents in prison and thousands more children in foster care.
Still, Utah has successfully prosecuted polygamists Tom Green and FLDS member Rodney Holm for bigamy, alongside other offenses accusing them of marriages with minors. Part of the problem that county attorneys in Utah have faced is getting victims to testify.
"I think our office has made the commitment after we learned there were children being forced into marriages and being abused," Murphy said. "We were doing everything we could to make sure that perpetrators were prosecuted and children were protected."In another sign that the topic of polygamy has become part of a national media feeding frenzy, Shurtleff was in the FLDS strongholds of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., on Thursday for a taping of the "Dr. Phil" show.
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