AUG 25, 2001

Utah Man Is Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison in Polygamy Case


PROVO, Utah, Aug. 24 After his five current wives made desperate pleas to keep him out of prison, Thomas A. Green was sentenced today to a relatively light term, five years, for his conviction in June on four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport.

The sentence was half as long as David O. Leavitt, the Juab County prosecutor, had sought and a fifth of the 25 years Mr. Green could have received under state sentencing guidelines, five years on each charge.

But Judge Guy R. Burningham, who presided over Mr. Green's trial the state's first involving bigamy charges in 50 years said he was persuaded by a $20,000 check Mr. Green gave the court today as a down payment on $78,868 he owes the state for helping to support his wives, three of whom are pregnant, and their 26 other children living with them.

The sentence seemed to displease both sides. Mr. Leavitt left the court room without speaking to reporters, and the various Mrs. Greens, some of them weeping as they had in court, affirmed their belief that their husband was unfairly prosecuted and made subject to laws that they, as polygamists, believed to be wrong.

"When you choose to live your religion and it happens to be against the law, you have to make yourself accountable," Linda Green, the fourth of 10 women Mr. Green has married over the years, told reporters after he was taken into custody. "I guess that's what we wives have done."

The sentencing hearing, like the trial in June, focused on two major elements. The first was Utah law, which outlawed plural marriages in 1896 as a condition of statehood. The second was Mr. Green's eagerness to speak publicly about his choice of religion "Mormon Fundamentalism," which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contends does not exist and the polygamous lifestyle as taught by his church.

State officials estimate that as many as 30,000 Utahans live in plural marriage settings. But Mr. Green, who is 53, was prosecuted, they have said, largely because in his frequent media interviews, he described an illegal lifestyle that he fully embraces.

In pronouncing the sentence, Judge Burningham told Mr. Green that he had the right to believe what he wanted but that the state had the right to intercede when those beliefs violated the law.

"Religious beliefs," the judge told Mr. Green, "are not a defense for a criminal act."

Addressing the court for 17 minutes, Mr. Green remained unbowed, portraying himself not only as a good husband and father but also as a deeply devout man who would never betray the teachings of his religion.

"I cannot back away from my beliefs, my practices or my family," Mr. Green told the court. He added, "For the state to say polygamy is destructive to society is an insult. This state was derived from polygamy."

After Mr. Green spoke, each of his current wives Hannah, Shirley, LeeAnn, Cari and Linda addressed the court for several minutes, trying to convince Judge Burningham that their husband is a law-abiding man, a loving husband and a doting father. They also described themselves as willing partners in polygamy as a way to discredit the common perception that polygamist men prey on women much younger than themselves. All of Mr. Green's wives are younger than he is.

"He is not a sexual predator," said Hannah Green, crying. "If he was, not a single one of us would be here today."

In arguing that Mr. Green should receive at least 10 years in prison, a term supported by the investigators who wrote presentencing reports for the court, Mr. Leavitt described Mr. Green as an irresponsible leech who relied on his family and taxpayers to support an ever-growing family.

Mr. Leavitt, a younger brother of Utah's governor, Michael O. Leavitt, used charts and graphs to show that through the family business, selling magazine subscriptions, Mr. Green generated only a small percentage of the overall income and, thus, his absence would have little bearing on his family's finances.

Mr. Leavitt also said that as long as monogamy was public policy, and as long as Mr. Green vowed never to change his lifestyle, then he "has to be held accountable" for breaking the law.

Judge Burningham said he had been inclined to agree with Mr. Leavitt's request for a longer term, until Mr. Green proffered the $20,000 and promised to make arrangements to repay the rest.

The wives said they appreciated the judge's open-mindedness.

"I had hoped Tom would be freed," Linda Green told reporters. "But Judge Burningham was fairer than Mr. Leavitt."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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