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Polygamist’s wife charged in kidnapping scheme loses bid for pretrial release

Leilani Barlow, a follower of Samuel Bateman, is accused of helping to kidnap minors whom the fundamentalist leader sexually abused.

PHOENIX (CN) — One of the many wives of a man accused of sexually abusing nearly a dozen underage girls — accused of helping to kidnap minors in 2022 — will remain in prison until at least May.

Leilani Barlow on Monday became the fourth defendant charged in the scheme to see a federal judge deny her bid for pretrial release.

“She is a devoted follower of Samuel Bateman who will do whatever he says,” prosecutor Ryan Powell said of Barlow at a Monday morning hearing. “She’s married to Samuel Bateman, as is her minor daughter, with her direct facilitation of that happening.”

Bateman, a self-proclaimed prophet and leader of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, married more than 12 girls, 10 of whom were minors as young as nine years old, between 2019 and 2022, according to a probable cause affidavit. The 46-year old was arrested in August on child endangerment charges and later indicted for destruction of evidence pertaining to the FBI’s investigation into his “family.”

The FBI says Bateman forced his wives into orgies, which he called “atonement ceremonies,” to forgive them for “wicked deeds.” If male followers acted out of turn, he would punish them by sleeping with their own wives or making them sleep with his. 

Bateman was arrested a second time in September on the destruction of evidence charges, and nine of his 12 wives were taken into Arizona Department of Child Services Custody.

More than a month later, three of Bateman’s adult wives kidnapped all but one of the girls and drove them to hotels across Arizona and Utah, prosecutors say.

“After they took the girls out of DCS custody, they needed more vehicles,” Powell told U.S. District Judge Susan Brnovich. “[Barlow] participated in cleaning out a vehicle and swapping it out with the other wives. That was her participation in the kidnapping.”

The FBI tracked all eight of the girls to an Airbnb in Spokane, Washington, and took them back into custody. Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson were soon charged with kidnapping.

A grand jury issued a superseding indictment on Dec. 14, 2022, slapping both Bateman and those three wives with two counts of destruction of evidence and two counts of kidnapping. A second superseding indictment followed five months later, totaling 56 counts against Bateman and 10 others, including Barlow, for crimes including transporting a minor for sexual activity, coercing a minor to engage in sexual conduct and production of child pornography. 

Barlow faces two counts: coercing travel to engage in sexual activity and using a means of interstate commerce to coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity.

Defense attorney Bradley Miller told Judge Brnovich, a Donald Trump appointee, that Barlow isn’t a flight risk and “is not a danger to the community.” Because she has cooperated in FBI interviews, and didn’t run in the time between her indictment and her arrest, Miller said she should be trusted to live outside of prison until her trial begins.

She requested to live with her brother in Prescott, but said she’d settle for a halfway house with an ankle monitor. 

Powell countered that, while Barlow has talked to the FBI, she’s lied more than once, specifically about her daughter and her marriage to Bateman.

During a supervised visit with her daughter, Barlow took advantage of a moment the supervisor had to step out of the house, using it to relay a message to her daughter from Bateman, urging her not to admit anything to anyone.

“That’s a perfect illustration of the ongoing danger that this particular defendant poses if she were to be released to custody,” Powell said.

Brnovich sided with prosecutors, saying Barlow’s attorneys haven’t done enough to prove she’s neither a flight risk nor an active threat to the community.

Barlow is the fourth defendant in the 11-person indictment to be denied a motion for pretrial release so far.

A trial is tentatively scheduled for May.

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Categories / Criminal, Regional, Religion

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