ST. GEORGE — A Southern Utah doomsday cult leader accused of marrying young girls pleaded guilty Wednesday to first-degree felony child rape and second-degree felony child abuse.
After agreeing to the plea deal in Iron County’s 5th District Court, Samuel Warren Shaffer, 34, of Cedar City, faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison for child rape and a potential maximum penalty of one to 15 years imprisonment for child abuse.
As part of the plea agreement, the Iron County Attorney’s Office agreed to forgo additional charges unless an ongoing examination of seized electronic devices yields evidence of child pornography, which could result in additional charges, according to the Iron County Sheriff’s Office.
Shaffer had been charged with four first-degree felonies for child kidnapping and sodomy on a child; six second-degree felonies for child abuse, conspiracy to commit child bigamy and obstruction of justice; along with class A misdemeanor lewdness involving a child.
“This plea agreement came only after consulting with the custodial parent of four of the young victims, and a number of state agencies regarding two other victims who are in the custody of the state of Utah,” the Iron County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement, adding:
The Iron County Attorney’s Office and the Iron County Sheriff’s Office believe this resolution is in the best interest of the young victims in this case. These young children have suffered enough and we would like to eliminate the necessity of them testifying in trial if possible. This plea agreement ensures Mr. Shaffer is held accountable for his criminal conduct and protects these young victims.
Shaffer and his partner John Coltharp, 34, of Spring City – both having been a “prophet” of the Knights of the Crystal Blade religious group – were arrested for allegedly kidnapping Coltharp’s four children to join their purported doomsday cult at a desert compound in a remote area of northern Iron County.
Following an extensive search and an Amber Alert, authorities located Coltharp’s four children and Samuel Shaffer’s two daughters upon raiding the makeshift compound made of shipping containers.
Two girls were recovered from what officials said was a “deplorable” single-wide trailer, and two other girls were found in an empty 50-gallon water drum, where they had been housed for 24 hours in subfreezing temperatures, charges state. The girls were taken to an area hospital, and one was flown to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Shaffer allegedly told investigators he had married Coltharp’s 8-year-old daughter while Coltharp married Shaffer’s 7-year-old daughter, according to charging documents.
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