Religion

Guilty plea by leader of polygamous sect near the Arizona-Utah border is at risk of being thrown out

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PHOENIX (AP) — A guilty plea by the leader of an offshoot polygamous sect near the Arizona-Utah border is at risk of being thrown out due to an unmet condition of his deal that hinged on whether others charged in the case also would plead guilty.

Under the terms of Samuel Bateman’s deal, prosecutors can — but aren’t required to — withdraw his guilty plea, after two other men charged in the case rejected plea offers and are now headed to trial.

Bateman, a self-proclaimed prophet who took more than 20 wives, including 10 girls under age 18, pleaded guilty this month to charges of kidnapping and conspiring to transport underage girls across state lines in what authorities say was a yearslong scheme to orchestrate sexual acts involving children.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix declined on Friday to say whether it will withdraw Bateman’s plea.

“We have yet to see it. It’s not on the docket,” Bateman’s attorney, Myles Schneider, said when asked about the matter. He declined to comment further.

Hearings are scheduled Monday and Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Susan Brnovich over the offers that were rejected by Bateman’s co-defendants.

Bateman’s plea agreement recommends a prison sentence of 20 to 50 years, though one of his convictions carries a possible maximum sentence of life.

In his plea, Bateman, 48, acknowledged taking underage brides, having sex activity with them and arranging group sex, sometimes involving child brides.

Authorities say Bateman created a sprawling network spanning at least four states as he tried to start an offshoot of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which historically has been based in the neighboring communities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.

He and his followers practice polygamy, a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it. Bateman and his followers believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.

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