CEDAR CITY, Utah – A self-proclaimed prophet accused of being in secret to marry young girls because of his belief in polygamy and doomsday, pleaded guilty in Utah Wednesday to child rape and abuse charges filed after police raided the group’s remote desert compound.
Samuel W. Shaffer faces at least 25 years in prison after agreeing to go with the Wednesday plea deal in Iron County, where prosecutors said that he abused an 8-year-old girl with regard to a member of the group, the Spectrum newspaper.
Child abduction and additional abuse courts were dropped in an agreement that keeps the girl from having to testify, said Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett.
Shaffer and a friend formed a group called the Knights of the Crystal Blade on the basis of arcane Mormon ideas long abandoned by the mainstream church, and every thought that he is married with two young girls, prosecutors have said.
The four girls were found, hidden in 50-gallon (190 litres) of water in plastic barrels and an abandoned trailer after the police raided a makeshift compound made of containers about 275 miles (440 km) south of Salt Lake City in December.
Shaffer, 34, also faces child bigamy, child abduction and other charges in Sanpete County, where prosecutors say the men carried out secret marriages they thought were ordained by God before the campsite is strategically to the compound. His lawyer, Troy Sundquist not immediately return a call seeking comment.
His fellow self-proclaimed prophet, John Coltharp, 34, is also faced with child bigamy and other charges. The authorities believe that the two men each held the title of prophet at various points.
Coltharp is expected to waive a proof hearing at a Sanpete County court Wednesday afternoon, his lawyer Paul Frischknecht said.
Each man believed that they were married with two girls, ages 4 to 8, prosecutors have said. The girls were in connection with the men, prosecutors have said. The authorities believe that the two older girls were sexually abused, but the researchers have not yet discovered proof two younger girls had been abused, according to the prosecutor, Kevin Daniels in Sanpete County.
The charges were filed after police officers descended on the rural Iron County connection with helicopters and dogs to the mother of two of the girls reported them missing, along with two of her sons. The men had taken of the children for months before in preparation for an apocalypse, or in the hopes of gaining followers, authorities said.
The boys were found in the makeshift compound, but it took the police another day to find the girls, because Shaffer had hidden them in the barrels and the trailer, authorities said.
After he told the police where to find them, the children were successfully treated for the effects of cold and symptoms of dehydration, according to police.