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Self-styled prophet gets another prison term in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — A self-styled prophet who led a doomsday cult and secretly married young girls because of his beliefs in polygamy and has already been sentenced to 26 years in prison has been given a 15-year term following another guilty plea.

Samuel Shaffer, 35, was sentenced Wednesday in Manti, Utah, after pleading guilty to one felony count of child sodomy, the Deseret News reported . Other charges including bigamy, lewdness involving a child and an additional sodomy count were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea.

He had previously pleaded guilty to separate child rape and abuse charges in another Utah court, and was sentenced last month to at least 26 years in prison. The new sentence will be served concurrently and won’t extend his prison term but will be reviewed when determining his parole, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors say Shaffer led a group called the Knights of the Crystal Blade based on arcane Mormon ideas long abandoned by the mainstream church.

He and his fellow self-styled prophet, John Coltharp, 34, proclaimed to each secretly marry two young girls aged 4 through 8 related to the other man.

Coltharp pleaded guilty to sodomy and child bigamy charges earlier this month. His sentencing is scheduled for August.

Shaffer was charged in December 2017 after police with helicopters and dogs raided a remote makeshift desert compound made out of shipping containers about 275 miles south of Salt Lake City. Authorities found the girls hiding in flimsy plastic barrels and a nearby abandoned trailer where Shaffer said he had placed them to protect them from the winter weather.

The men had taken the children to the compound months before in preparation for an apocalypse or in hopes of gaining followers, authorities said.

At the hearing Wednesday, Shaffer told Judge Marvin Bagley that he had hoped to have a family and grow old with one of the girls.

“I sincerely believed that child marriage was a correct principle from God. And I’ve seen the consequences of what’s happened, and I know that I shouldn’t have done it now,” Shaffer said. “But I sincerely believed that the practice was correct at the time.”

“I’m not aware of any religion in this world that justifies an adult having a sexual relationship with an 8-year-old girl,” the judge said. “Certainly it’s a violation of Utah law.”

A third man, Robert Shane Roe, 34, of Castro, California, was charged earlier this month with sodomy of a child in connection with the group. He allegedly met the cult’s founders in a Facebook discussion group last year and traveled to Utah to join them.

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