CEDAR CITY, Utah - A member of a polygamous doomsday cult has been ordered to spend 26 years-to-life in prison for child rape and child abuse.
Samuel Shaffer was ordered to spend 25 years-to-life in prison for the first-degree felony rape charge and another one-to-15 years in prison for abuse. Fifth District Court Judge Matthew Bell ordered him to serve the sentences consecutively.
"I want to be clear you are not being sentenced based on religious views, you are being sentenced based on criminal conduct which is highly disturbing," Judge Bell told him.
Shaffer was known as "the seer" in the apocalyptic group "Knights of the Crystal Blade." He and his co-defendant, John Coltharp, are accused of kidnapping children. After he was arrested, Shaffer told police in Iron County he was "betrothed" to Coltharp's 8-year-old daughter. Shaffer also told police Coltharp was married to his 7-year-old daughter.
The children were the subject of an AMBER Alert last year before being found near Cedar City last year. Police found two of the children in a mobile home, and two others hiding in empty water barrels with temperatures dipping near freezing. Prosecutors contend the children likely would have died.
In court, Shaffer revealed that he has agreed to testify against Coltharp but also said he contemplated suicide before doing so. Then he argued against the prosecution's versions of events. His lawyer insisted that for Shaffer, this was not sexual but religious.
Shaffer spoke of his victim in loving terms, even claiming he did not have ill will for her testifying against him.
"I care about her a lot and I care about her mother a lot. I was devastated reading her letter yesterday. If being crucified would make it better I would do it. I’m sorry," he said.
Shaffer's mother pleaded with the judge for mental health treatment for her son, saying she would not excuse his actions but it was apparent he needed help.
"It did start as a religious thing but I do accept culpability to the fact that I should have waited longer to initiate more intimate aspects of the relationship. Even though it started religious I do take culpability in that and I’m sorry," Shaffer told the judge.
Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said he believed Shaffer was minimizing his conduct and noted there are likely mental health problems.
"Justification, minimization, I agree that seemed to be his tone. It shows how deep the issues really are, I think," he said.
Outside of court, the children's grandfather told reporters he didn't believe Shaffer's claims.
"He used his power as an adult, as someone who became a pseudo-caregiver slash kidnapper. He used religion to find a way to justify his pedophilia," Steve Soble said.
The children, who were not present for sentencing, have "good days and bad days," Soble said. They live with their mother out of state.
"They’re in therapy and they’re trying hard to do well," he said. "We’re trying to do everything we can to give them a wonderful and happy life."
Colthar is scheduled to be in Manti's 6th District Court next week. At a hearing, it will be determined if he will go to trial.