Utah polygamist found guilty
PROVO, Utah (CNN) -- A jury in the U.S. state of Utah has found an avowed polygamist guilty on four counts of bigamy.
Tom Green, 52, a self-professed "fundamentalist" Mormon who lives with his five wives and 29 children near Trout Creek, 125 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, had testified that he married the women in a spiritual sense.
Along with the bigamy charges, the jury also found Green guilty of failure to pay child support.
He faces a possible prison sentence of 25 years.
During the trial -- Utah's first high-profile bigamy case in half a century -- Green flouted a judge's warnings by going on national television to defend a lifestyle which was common Mormon practice until the mid-19th century.
After the verdict was delivered Friday night, Green lambasted Mormons such as Juab County prosecutor David Leavitt, the brother of Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, for what he said was a rejection of their Mormon heritage.
"How can somebody claim to be a Mormon and say that plural marriage is wicked,?" Green said in remarks quoted by Reuters.
Green added that polygamy had been practiced by two revered Mormon leaders -- Brigham Young and the prophet, Joseph Smith.
Banned since 1890
Polygamy's legacy in Utah dates back to the 1840s, when members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, as the Mormon church is formally known, first settled in the state.
But the practice never gained wider currency outside the Church. By 1890, the Church banned the taking of multiple wives, with the penalty for offenders being excommunication. Utah's constitution formally outlawed polygamy as a condition of statehood.
But despite the ban, polygamy never died out in Utah. An estimated 30,000 polygamists, most of them in Utah, live in the American West, according to the Associated Press.
For this reason, Green maintained that he was being unfairly singled out for perpetuating a practice that was once a cornerstone of Church theology.
Though raised as a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, Green said he awakened to his fundamentalist beliefs in the 1980s -- part of which embraced early Church teachings accepting the taking of multiple wives.
Though polygamists were sometimes imprisoned up until the 1950s, Green said polygamy had been "the unwritten rule for 50 years in Utah." He described the arrangement as one of, "You'll pretend we don't exist and we'll pretend you don't exist," AP reported.
During the trial, Green cast himself as a supportive husband whose efforts to provide for his family were beset by the destruction of his mobile home in a windstorm, and a fire in January 1997, in which he lost a three-year-old child.
He said that one of his wives suffered smoke inhalation and had to be admitted to a hospital after rescuing children from the flames.
The defense focused its efforts on parrying prosecution charges that Green married teenagers, divorced them and then collected their welfare payments as he continued living with them.
Green also faces a charge of first-degree felony rape of a 13-year-old girl with whom he allegedly had sex in 1986. He subsequently married the girl. The charge carries a prison term of five years to life, Reuters reported. A trial date is yet to be set.
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