MANTI — The leader of a purported doomsday cult, accused of kidnapping and child sex abuse, tried to fire his court-appointed attorney Wednesday and made statements in court the judge warned could be used against him at trial.
The courtroom theatrics overshadowed the disturbing details of this case. It all began with John Coltharp, 34, telling the judge he wants to be his own attorney.
"As I have watched this case unfold over the last five months, everything I have heard that is negative is the result of other people speaking for me, and nobody can speak for me better than me," Coltharp said.
He added, "I was there with what allegedly occurred, and so I know what the facts are and I want to see to that."
But while discussing the evidence against him in court, Coltharp made what 6th District Judge Marvin Bagley said could be considered an admission that could be used against him at trial.
"There's a lot of truth that has been presented in my discovery," Coltharp said.
The judge interrupted him and said, "You just made an admission there," to which Coltharp replied, "I understand that. I did just make an admission there. There's a lot of truth in what's in here, but there's a lot of information that is false, also."
Coltharp's court-appointed attorney, Paul Frischknecht, was clearly frustrated with his client as he tried to keep him from representing himself at a trial set for July.
"If one insists on digging their own grave," Frischknecht said, "we've had that discussion, your honor. My client is firm on his feelings, and I've said what I've said to him, and he's just heard basically the same thing from the court."
Coltharp, of Spring City, is charged in one case in Sanpete County with sodomy on a child, a first-degree felony, and child bigamy, a second-degree felony. He faces charges of child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony, in an additional case in Iron County.
In the fall, police say Coltharp loaded a U-Haul in the middle of the night and vacated his Spring City house, taking his two sons and two daughters between the ages of 8 and 4, along with the children's grandparents to live in a makeshift compound constructed out of Conex storage containers in a remote area of northern Iron County approximately a mile west of Lund. A total of six children and four adults were living in the containers, which totaled approximately 800 square feet, according to police.
According to court records, Coltharp's ex-wife called Coltharp a "doomsday prepper who believes that the world will soon come to an end."
When authorities found the compound in December and arrested Samuel Warren Shaffer, an alleged cult member, Coltharp's two girls were found hidden in a plastic 50-gallon water barrel that Shaffer had allegedly made them stay in for at least 24 hours, according to charging documents.
Shaffer's own two children were found in an abandoned mobile home "in deplorable living conditions" and were in "poor health, with signs of dehydration and acting lethargic," according to court records.
After a long discussion behind closed doors, when the prosecutor said he showed Coltharp new evidence in the case, Coltharp's tone suddenly changed.
"It's just from that cooperating witness," said Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels said. "What that cooperating witness would testify to, I'm not ready to divulge who that cooperating witness is, but it is somebody who is involved in the case."1 comment on this story
The information may come from Shaffer, fellow Knights of the Crystal Blade member, who has already pleaded guilty to charges in Iron County but still faces similar charges in Sanpete County.
The prosecutor now believes Coltharp is rethinking a plea deal.
"Keep in mind, he is innocent until proven guilty," Daniels said. "He hasn't pled to anything, but if he is convicted at trial, I plan on seeking the harshest sentence possible."
In the end, Coltharp agreed to keep his attorney on board until he has a chance to meet with the prosecutor over possible plea negotiations. He's set to return to court on May 30.