Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

USA Hits Hurdles in Fundamentalist Trial

PHOENIX (CN) - Limiting new water hookups in two towns on the Arizona-Utah border run by fundamentalist Mormons were reasonable given their depleted water supply, an expert for the defense testified Thursday in a religious discrimination trial.

The United States sued Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah in 2012, claiming the towns limit access to water, housing, power and police for residents who are not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Church leader Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence plus 20 years in Texas for sexually assaulting two young girls he called his "spiritual wives."

Prosecutors say the cities and co-defendant Twin City Water Authority denied nonmembers' requests by for water services "because of a water shortage," but provided water to FLDS residents and businesses.

Marvin Wilson, a civil engineer with Sunrise Engineering, testified Thursday that a 1998 water plan he completed for the towns indicated that by 2018 there would be a water shortage of 1,100 gallons per minute given the estimated population growth.

Wilson told the jury that he has returned to the towns to see if his predictions were correct.

"In 2008, [water] was projected to be about 300 gallons per minute short," Wilson said. "In 2007, they ran out of water."

Wilson said the border towns faced difficulties in acquiring new water sources for their growing population. The towns looked into developing nearby Squirrel Canyon, but the properly is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which imposes permitting process to drill for water on federal land.

The neighboring Navajo Sandstone Aquifer was another option, Wilson said, but it is above the towns "by elevation and horizontal distance" and would be expensive.

Wilson said he was contacted in 2008 by Colorado City Town Manager David Darger to provide the towns with a report on well levels after an entity sought water access. The communities provided him with water table data, and Wilson concluded the water table was dropping.

Any additional development in the towns "would be detrimental," Wilson testified.

In 2010, the cities enacted new water ordinances ordering that "no new service location will be connected to the culinary water system" unless the applicant can supply water to the system that meets environmental qualifications.

"Are these reasonable steps to develop water?" attorney Blake Hamilton asked Wilson.

"If you have an event that you run out of water, more Draconian measures are reasonable," Wilson said.

The jury also heard testimony from Daniel Musser, a deputy with the Colorado City Marshal's Office.

Musser's name has come up repeatedly through the trial as an alleged member of church security who was hired as a deputy because of his affiliation with the church. Church security is said to monitor current and former members and keep an eye out for outside law enforcement.

Musser, 32, said he was born and raised in the FLDS church, but is no longer an active member.

"I've never been a part of anybody's church security," Musser said.

According to the Justice Department, the Marshal's Office selectively enforces "laws and regulations against non-FLDS individuals on the basis of religion."

Musser denied ever treating nonmembers differently, and said he report another deputy if he noticed religious discrimination.

"I run just as fast for non-FLDS as FLDS," Musser told the jury.

The fourth week of testimony concluded Thursday. The trial continues next week.

Follow @jamierossCNS
Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.