Cult leader says 'heavenly laws' directed him to take child bride

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MANTI — A doomsday cult leader told a judge Wednesday he was following "heavenly laws" when he took a 7-year-old child as his bride last year.

John Alvin Coltharp, 34, expressed no regret for sexually abusing the girl. Instead, he said he is Jacob from the Old Testament, among other biblical figures, and has returned to earth to promote child marriage.

Family members of the child could be seen cringing in the courtroom as he spoke in Manti's 6th District Court.

Judge Marvin Bagley told Coltharp his beliefs are wrong and not attributable to the Bible, and that he is a risk of abusing others. The judge issued what he said was the maximum prison sentence possible: at least 26 years and up to life in prison, adding he hopes Coltharp never is released.

Coltharp earlier in the hearing issued a warning that society is out of line with God's will and governments soon will be overthrown, telling Bagley that it doesn't matter how long he goes to prison because society won't last much longer.

"We're living at a time before the second coming of Christ, where the majority is going down the wrong road," Coltharp said. "And so if I'm judged by majority standards, by people who profess to believe in the scriptures and in those prophesies, I hope they would take that into account."

In June, he pleaded guilty to child sodomy, a first-degree felony, and child bigamy, a second-degree felony. In exchange, and as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, charges in a second, related Sanpete County case were dismissed. The dropped charges are: child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and obstructing justice, a second-degree felony.

Prosecutors say Coltharp led a doomsday cult, identified as the Knights of the Crystal Blade, with Samuel Warren Shaffer, 35, of Cedar City. They have described the religious group as a "fundamentalist group for millennials" that formed online.

In September, Shaffer and Coltharp disappeared with their children, later saying they took each other's daughters as underage brides. A December Amber Alert helped investigators find Coltharp's daughters, ages 5 and 7, and Shaffer's daughters, ages 4 and 8, in freezing temperatures. Two were hidden in plastic barrels and two in an abandoned mobile home in remote Iron County.

Shaffer is serving a prison sentence of at least 26 years and up to life following separate convictions related to the abuse in Iron and Sanpete counties. He told a Cedar City judge in June he had hoped to have a family and grow old with the 8-year-old girl he considered his bride.

Shaffer's abuse of the girl he considered his bride played a role in Coltharp's fate. The judge Wednesday said Coltharp should be punished for subjecting his own daughter to Shaffer.

Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels said Wednesday that the children suffered so much, he wishes the death penalty had been an option. He said the girls will struggle for the rest of their lives.

"If he wants to be a martyr," Daniels said of Coltharp after the hearing, "I am more than happy to fill the role of the individual who drops the sword on his head."

Also after the hearing, the victims' grandfather noted that Coltharp has always been "very controlling, very manipulative," but the family had no idea of the "depth of his depravity."

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"It's nice to know that most likely he will be spending the rest of his life in prison, and we hope that it is very, very uncomfortable for him," he said.

Robert Shane Roe, 35, of Castro, California, an alleged follower of the group, has also been charged with child sodomy. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19.

Correction: A previous version said Coltharp is 35 years old. He is actually 34. The earlier story also said Coltharp was ordered to at least 25 years in prison. The judge sentenced him to at least 26 years and up to life.


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