CEDAR CITY — The purported leader of a doomsday cult who pleaded guilty in February to raping a child was sentenced Tuesday to at least 26 years and up to life in prison.
Samuel Warren Shaffer, 34, of Cedar City, pleaded guilty on Feb. 21 to rape of a child, a first-degree felony, and child abuse, a second-degree felony. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for the rape and one to 15 years in prison for the child abuse. A judge ordered the sentences to run consecutively, meaning Shaffer will likely serve a minimum of 26 years in prison.
Shaffer, whose referred to himself as "the Seer," is the alleged leader of a religious group called the Knights of the Crystal Blade. He, along with John Alvin Coltharp, 34, of Spring City, are accused of kidnapping their young daughters and marrying them to each other.
The search for Shaffer, Coltharp and their children began in September. But authorities issued an Amber Alert in December after discovering new information about the men and what they were doing.
Shortly after, Shaffer's two daughters, ages 5 and 7, were found hidden in two plastic, 50-gallon barrels outside in zero-degree weather in a remote area of Iron County. Coltharp's daughters, ages 4 and 8, were not dressed for the cold and were left without food or water in Lund, an unincorporated area 30 miles north of Cedar City.
Iron County Attorney Scott Barrett told the judge Tuesday it was very likely the girls would not have survived much longer if they had not been found when they were.
"Everything that has happened to me is my fault," Shaffer told the judge at one point. He later admitted, "I do acknowledge I need help."
But aside from those comments in which he seemed to accept some responsibility, Shaffer often rambled as he spoke, complaining about a pre-sentence report and disputing explanations from investigators about what happened. He also appeared to minimize his conduct or give justifications for his actions.
"I don't know if this is in my best interest to say, but it did start as a religious thing. But I do accept culpability to the fact that I should have waited longer to initiate more intimate aspects of the relationship. Even though it started religious, I do take culpability for that," he said at one point.
Shaffer also claimed he put the young girls in the barrels to protect them from the weather and had intended on turning them over to the police once he was assured that the children would not be placed in state protective custody.
"In our religious beliefs, the custody of the state is worse than death," he said.
Shaffer further claimed one of the officers who arrested him used eye drops to make "fake tears" to appear to be sympathetic toward Shaffer's wishes that his children not be placed in state custody.
"It just shows that there are some issues there that he has," Barrett replied when asked to comment on Shaffer's statements.
Shaffer's mother, who was allowed to address the judge prior to sentencing, asked that her son be given mental health treatment.
"I am not here to justify any actions of Samuel Shaffer. I am here to ask for help for him," she told the judge. "He needs help. He needs mental health help."
Shaffer's mother said even though her son's actions were "totally deranged," she believes that in his mind, he was protecting them. "He was obviously horribly wrong," she said.
Judge Matthew Bell said rather that protect the children, Shaffer committed "egregious crimes" that "warrant severe penalties."
"You're not being sentenced based on religious views. You're being sentenced based on your criminal conduct, which is highly disturbing," he said before handing down the sentence.
Bell also acknowledged that Shaffer "needed help" and recommended he receive any treatment available while in prison.
Outside the courtroom, Steve Soble, grandfather of some of the kidnapped children, said he was pleased with the sentence. He said there were no factors to justify Shaffer's actions.
"He used his power as an adult, as someone who became a pseudo-caregiver/kidnapper. He used religion as a way to justify his pedophilia. And there is no discounting that fact. And hopefully he gets what he deserves," he said.
Asked how his grandchildren are doing, Soble said they are "holding up."
"They have good days and bad days. They're in therapy. They're really trying hard to do well, and we're trying to do everything we can to give them a wonderful and happy life," he said.
But Soble also noted Shaffer's sentencing is just the first step. Shaffer still faces charges of sodomy on a child, child bigamy and obstruction of justice in Sanpete County where he could receive additional prison time if convicted. His next court hearing in that case is set for June 27.
Coltharp 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.
At his last court hearing, Coltharp waived his preliminary hearing and rejected a plea deal offer from prosecutors, setting up a potential trial in July.
Soble said he would not be surprised if Coltharp rejects all plea offers and attempts to go through with his trial.