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Fate of Fundamentalist Towns in Hands of Jury

PHOENIX (CN) - City employees and law enforcement officers on the Arizona-Utah border asked imprisoned child molester Warren Jeffs for advice on running the fundamentalist Mormon-dominated towns, Department of Justice attorneys told jurors during closing arguments Wednesday in a religious discrimination trial.

The Department of Justice sued Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, in 2012. Both are dominated by followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Prosecutors claim the towns denied non-FLDS members access to police protection, housing and water.

Warren Jeffs, the church's leader, is serving life plus 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting 12- and 15-year-old girls, whom he called his spiritual wives.

Closing arguments Wednesday sent the nearly seven-week long trial to the jury of seven men and five women. They must decide whether the towns violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by allowing their law enforcement agency, the Colorado City Marshal's Office, to fuse its actions with the interests of the FLDS church.

The jury also must determine if the towns violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments by denying non-church members equal protection and subjecting them to unreasonable search and seizures, and whether they violated the Fair Housing Act by denying new water connections from 2007 through 2014.

Department of Justice attorney Sean Keveney told the jury Wednesday that "witness after witness after witness" had testified to the religious discrimination.

"How did we get to this point in a town in the United States of America?" Keveney asked.

He asked the jury to review letters from former mayors to Warren Jeffs in prison, including one from former Colorado City Mayor George Barlow asking Jeffs to inform him of "mind and will of God" for city business, including the promotion of then-interim Chief Marshal Helaman Barlow.

"This is a letter from a mayor of an American city," Keveney told the jury, throwing his hands up in disbelief.

Early on in the trial, the court heard testimony from Jeffs' former sister-in-law, Charlene Jeffs, that members of the Marshal's Office donated money to the church to support Warren Jeffs' unsuccessful defense against sexual assault charges.

Chief Marshal Jerry Darger testified this week that he gave money to the church, but only as a tithing to benefit the homeless or widows.

But Keveney said that was not the point. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with giving money to the church," Keveney said. "That's not what was going on here."

The Department of Justice presented witnesses that Colorado City and Hildale refused to provide water hookups to non-church members, but connected water for church projects without waiting for a water application.

Keveney cited a 2014 jury verdict in favor of Ron and Jinjer Cooke - two non-FLDS members who sued the towns, claiming they were denied a water connection when the cities falsely claimed there was a shortage of water. The jury awarded the Cookes $5.2 million .

"There's no reason the cities had to deny Ron and Jinjer Cooke water for six years," Keveney said Wednesday.

But Jeff Matura, an attorney for Colorado City, said the Justice Department lacked enough evidence to show a pattern of discrimination.

"Who is discriminating against whom in this case?" Matura asked the jury. "They really want you to believe these towns are controlled by Warren Jeffs."

Jeffs is not a defendant in this case, nor is the FLDS church, Matura said.

"Be smarter than the government thinks you are," Matura told the jury.

During the trial, attorneys for the towns presented evidence that the decision not to allow new water hookups from 2007 through 2014 was supported by a summer water shortage .

"If the towns used religion to refuse water connections ... why do they all have water connections?" Matura asked, listing a number of witnesses who testified for the Department of Justice who had water.

Hildale attorney Blake Hamilton questioned the reliability of a number of Justice Department witnesses, including Barlow, who was granted immunity from the federal government and admitted on the stand to previously lying under oath.

Barlow testified in February that the church decided who would serve in the Marshal's Office, but Sgt. Sam Johnson testified for the defense that he was not promoted to sergeant until after he left the FLDS.

Hamilton asked jurors to consider whether the towns would "train and promote" non-members to the Marshal's Office if they were controlled by the church.

In addition to constitutional violations, the jury must also consider whether to award damages for emotional distress to six people.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland will impose remedies if the jury finds for the Department of Justice.

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