[More Utah Polygamy] After spending yesterday at the state Legislature's interim judiciary committee hearing, I'm still shaking the ol' noggin.
This being the Thanksgiving season, I can tell you the meeting was a regular cornucopia of surreal experiences only Utahns can truly believe.
The topper was testimony from Elend LeBaron, a businessman from Delta and son of polygamist Ross LeBaron, Jr. Ross is a member of the infamous LeBaron polygamist clan and brother to Ervil LeBaron, who ordered the assassination of Rulon Allred, a member of another Utah polygamist sect whom Ervil considered a rival, in 1977. Ervil was convicted in the murder conspiracy, and died in prison in 1981.
Still with me?
Elend testified yesterday that his father, who with his own sperm via artificial insemination, has impregnated two of Elend's sisters. Elend claims that five of his nieces and nephews are products of his father's sperm and sisters' eggs and thus, victims of incest. Elend knows this because about a year ago, acting on suspicions he and two other brothers have had for some time about incest in their family, he secretly collected DNA samples from the children by swabbing inside their cheeks. Genetic tests matched the two children with Ross and another brother, Elend says.
Utah law defines incest as the result of sexual intercourse. So, Elend claims, in order to protect other sisters (he comes from a family of 12 children), he is working through the law to reveal his father Ross' actions and to extend the definition of incest to include artificial insemination. The committee heard from Elend, Iron County assistant prosecutor Troy Little and University of Utah genetics expert Dr. John Opitz--who gave a fascinating--if truncated--lecture on the physical and mental maladies associated with first-degree matings (parent to child; sibling to sibling). The committee passed on to the full Legislature a bill that would allow prosecutors to use genetic tests to frame incest cases, and would increase the reporting period for incest from four to seven years.
And if you aren't entirely creeped out by now, Elend LeBaron detailed the reasons his father and sisters claim they are making an incestuous family in--where else--Southern Utah. Ross, Elend says, bought up several tracts of land in and around Iron County several years ago.
"The primary motive is to produce children," Elend told the committee. In his father's eyes, "my younger brother and younger sister are producing children together to advance God's kingdom," he said. Elend said he believes his father is "trying to replicate a virgin birth. Because this is the way Jesus came about (with no sexual intercourse), this is something [Ross] wants to accomplish."
After the hearing, Elend and I spoke for 30 or so minutes in a state Capitol hallway. He told me that last year, after getting the results of the paternity tests, he diagrammed for his sisters on a dry-erase board a classic heredity chart. He cited classic studies on genetic disorders caused by incest and hoped he could show them the risks to their children. "Their reaction was 'this might happen to other people, but it won't happen to us.' They believe God wants them to do this. The rest of the population might be hurt by incest, but they are sure God will protect them."
Uh, yeah. Right in our back yard, people. (Holly Mullen)