Polygamist Gets 45 Days for Sex with Teen Bride

August 3, 2006

An Arizona judge has sentenced a polygamist to 45 days in county jail for having sex with a teenager he took as his third wife.

The sentence disappointed authorities in Kingman, Arizona, who had hoped a harsher punishment for defendant Kelly Fischer would discourage others in the church from taking teenage wives.

Fischer was the first of seven members of the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints (FLDS) to be tried for plural marriages to minors.

"I don't know if we've sent a strong enough message to these people," said Gary Engels, an investigator with the Mohave County Attorney's office.

About 7,000 FLDS members live in the twin border towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.

Members of the group, which broke with mainstream Mormons in the 1890s over polygamy, believe that only those in plural marriages can reach the highest level of heaven.

Warren Jeffs, the church leader or "prophet," is a federal fugitive from charges in both states stemming from his alleged arrangement of "celestial marriages" between teenage girls and older, married men.

The county prosecutor, Matt Smith, had asked Judge Steven Conn to sentence Fischer, 39, to some prison time. Fischer faced a minimum sentence of probation and a maximum of four years in prison.

As part of the sentence, Fischer must complete three years probation and register as a sex offender. He must report to jail by November 1.

Although polygamy is unconstitutional in Arizona, it is not a crime. Law enforcement largely left the FLDS alone until about 18 months ago, when Mohave County began investigating allegations of sex with underage girls.

Relying on birth certificates and testimony of former church members, a jury convicted Fischer last month of sexual contact with a minor and conspiracy for having sex with a 16-year-old.

The woman, now 21 and the mother of three children by Fischer, refused to cooperate with the prosecution and was among 130 people to send letters vouching for his character to the judge.

"We have a beautiful family together. I love my husband. He loves us and takes very good care of us. The children adore their father ... I don't need to explain my personal life to anyone," she wrote in the letter.

Fischer addressed the court for about a half hour, telling the judge that there was no coercion or abuse in his household.

"I can say for my life and my family that there's no one that's been pressured into doing anything they didn't want to do," the Las Vegas Review-Journal quoted Fischer as saying. "Every single person is very happy. There's no pain."

According to the paper, the judge told Fischer his religious beliefs did not justify breaking the law.

"There is no reason why people in Colorado City, simply because they subscribe to a different religious belief, should believe that they have the right to do something that everyone else in society cannot do," the judge said.

A day after the sentencing, Smith, the county prosecutor, was circumspect about the possible impact of any punishment handed down by an authority outside the insular community.

"I would've like to have seen him get more time, not so much that he needed to get it, but more along the lines of a deterrent factor," Smith said.

But, he said, "Does what we say really matter to them? It's what Warren Jeffs says that matters, and if he says marry a 16-year-old, then they are going to do that."

Another FLDS member, Donald Barlow, goes on trial on August 15.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.