PROVO, Utah -- The bigamy conviction of a Utah man who has five wives and 25 children is certain to have ramifications for other polygamists throughout the West who now may face prosecution, lawyers say.
Tom Green, 52, was convicted Friday on four counts of bigamy and one count of failing to pay child support in what was the country's first major polygamy case in nearly five decades. Green faces up to 25 years in prison and $25,000 in fines at his June 27 sentencing.
A jury of five women and three men deliberated for about three hours before deciding on what is considered a test case for polygamy. Both sides have said the case could open the door to future prosecutions.
"Bigamy is against the law in Utah, and if I have a provable case, I have a duty to prosecute it," Juab County Attorney David Leavitt said.
Green, who says his lifestyle is a God-given choice, lives in a remote stretch of Utah desert with his children and wives, who were married as young as 14.
As spectators in the courtroom strained to hear the jury's verdict, some of Green's family members could be heard crying. Three wives and seven children were in the courtroom.
"He's guilty of spending his entire life living for his family. ... It's just not right," said his fifth wife, Hannah Green, who cried as she spoke to reporters after the verdict.
Green, visibly angry after the conviction, called Utah officials "spineless."
Alluding to the fact that many in Utah, including Leavitt, have polygamist ancestors, Green lashed out:
"I think the leaders in Utah have turned their back on their heritage," he said.
Polygamy arrived in Utah in the 1840s, when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled in the state. Mormon leaders believed the practice was required by God because some Old Testament prophets took multiple wives. With federal pressure mounting, the church in 1890 disavowed polygamy.
Although Utah banned plural marriage in its constitution in order to become a state, it has no specific anti-polygamy law on the books. So prosecutors convinced the jury that Green was married to one woman and cohabited with the others.
Green's lawyer, John Bucher, vowed to appeal. He said the ruling will likely drive other polygamists -- estimated at 30,000 throughout the West -- further underground.
"It's going to put a squelch on First Amendment rights and the practice of these people's religion," he said.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors said Green had a scheme to marry several young women, and he let nothing stand in his way.
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