Coltharp sentenced to 26years-to-life,
claims divine revelation for acts
By James Tilson
MANTI—John Coltharp, the Spring City man whose children were rescued from a religiously oriented camp in Iron County, was sentenced to prison for 26 years to life last week while proclaiming himself to be Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, in open court.
John Coltharp, 34, pleaded guilty on May 2 to one count of sodomy on a child, a first-degree felony, and child bigamy, a second-degree felony, for sex crimes on his “child bride.” In a plea agreement, charges of child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony, were dismissed.
The main question before Judge Marvin Bagley at the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Aug. 8, was whether sentences for the two counts were to run concurrently or consecutively.
Coltharp’s charges arose from his belief in “child marriage” and what he claimed were personal revelations from God.
In late 2016, Coltharp and his co-defendant Samuel Shaffer founded the Knights of the Crystal Blade. Coltharp claims the order is not an off-shoot from the LDS church, but does follow some of the teachings of Joseph Smith and other religious texts.
In December 2017, after his estranged wife had won a divorce decree and custody of the couple’s children, police began looking for Coltharp and the children. Coltharp was arrested in Spring City but refused to reveal where his four children were.
After Sanpete County detectives figured out that the Knights of the Crystal Blade were headquartered in a remote part of Iron County and an Amber alert was issued, the children were found in unheated portable storage buildings.
Further investigation found Cotharp and Shaffer had “married” each other’s elementary-age daughters in accordance with their unconventional religious beliefs.
Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels addressed Judge Bagley first during the hearing. “I do want to preface this,” he said, “by stating that this is the type of case I wish that the Legislature empowered me to seek the death penalty.”
Daniels supported his statement by referencing the level of damage to the victims, the number of victims, and the fact that the victims “will be dealing with this for the rest of their lives.”
Daniels said he had met with Coltharp on more than one occasion and had been able to communicate with him in a very respectful manner. However, he said, “We fundamentally disagree on life philosophies.”
Specifically, Coltharp continued to defend his practice of “child marriage.” Daniels read from the presentence report that Coltharp had told the investigator how much marriage meant to him.
“It is a vital part of my religion,” he told the presentence investigator according to the report. “My marriage and subsequent relations were not sinful. To suggest so would be to dishonor the name of Joseph Smith and every other prophet that lived these ancient laws of God.”
While Daniels read from the report, Coltharp could be seen nodding in enthusiastic agreement the descriptions of his beliefs.
And then Daniels told the judge, “If he is contending the government is waging a war on his beliefs, then sign me up as a general in that battle.”
Daniels made other arguments as to why Coltharp should receive consecutive sentences. The county attorney said Coltharp would never follow the law, and would re-offend if released.
He said Coltharp’s crimes caused long-lasting trauma to the child victims and a financial burden to those now raising the children. The crimes exhibited extreme depravity and cruelty, and were committed over a long period of time. And Coltharp committed the crimes while in a position of trust with the victims.
Daniels then read into the record a letter from foster parents of the Shaffer children, whom Coltharp had taken as his “child brides” describing the after-effects of Coltharp’s actions. The children have trouble eating, cannot speak up to their age group, have difficulty with balance and have many misunderstandings of personal relationships.
The letter also described how the children talk about their “marriages” and the fact that Coltharp engaged in sexual conduct with them.
It ended by saying the children have been in therapy since they arrived with the foster parents but the full realization of their trauma will not occur until they have reached adulthood, and find out their childhood was taken from them.
The presentence report also contained a letter from Coltharp’s ex-wife. She told about the trauma her daughter had faced by being the child bride of Samuel Shaffer. When her daughter came back to her, her daughter was terrified to talk about what happened.
But when she finally did, she confirmed Shaffer had engaged in sexual practices with her. “This was something all the other children confirmed they had seen firsthand,” the ex-wife’s letter said.
In the letter, Coltharp’s ex-wife told the judge why she could not attend the sentencing. “I know I would not be able to restrain myself from hurting the man who hurt my babies.”
The maternal grandfather of the Coltharp children, Steve Soble, who was in court, said he was glad the case had been resolved short of trial so that the children avoided being re-traumatized by testifying against their father. But at the same time, he said, “I’m frustrated that not all of his behavior can be addressed.
“He’s a predator. He preyed on my daughter when she was a teenager. He preyed on these children.”
And then he told the judge what his grandchildren asked him to tell the court at the sentencing, statements such as, “He’s a big fat idiot” and “I hate him so much.” Other reported comments from the children were, “You’re such a piece of poop” and “a really rude person, a fat bubble-butt.”
When it came time for Frischknecht, Coltharp’s attorney, to speak, he seemed at a loss for words, “What can I say, your honor?” he said.
After expressing his sympathy to the victims, and telling the judge that there would not be much difference between concurrent and consecutive sentences, he turned over the podium to his client.
Coltharp, after thanking Daniels and the Adult Probation and Parole for accurately relating his religious views, told the judge, “I know that my religious views are not shared by society, and that puts me in the minority. But that’s exactly where God’s chosen few have always found themselves, in the minority.”
Coltharp argued to the judge that society was, in fact, “going down the wrong road,” and his religious views were the result of “visions, revelations and speaking with God.”
“My marriage was the right thing to do. If Joseph Smith were here today, he’d probably be a sex offender for the things he did, including under-age marriage,” he said.
Coltharp said when he was with his “child brides,” they were happy and that any trauma suffered by them did not occur until the state intervened in his family.
Then Coltharp told the judge he had something to say that God had asked him to say. “Changes are coming. This government will be overthrown. I am Jacob, in the Old Testament. Also Elijah, and the Apostle John. I am here before the Second Coming to set an example with regard to marriage, and to teach the keys of the gospel, and to warn the people, especially of this state, to repent before that destruction is coming.”
Judge Bagley did not take much time to consider his options. He told Coltharp that the only real issue is whether his two counts should be concurrent or consecutive. Bagley asked Coltharp why it should be one or the other. Coltharp replied, “It doesn’t matter to me, I don’t think society will last that long.”
Judge Bagley then announced, “I don’t believe any scripture condones sexual relations between an adult and a 7-year-old.”
For that reason, the life-long trauma to the children, the nature of the offenses, and the fact that it was Coltharp’s and Shaffer’s daughters that were the victims, Bagley sentenced Coltharp to consecutive terms in prison, for 1-15 years, and 25-to-life.
Afterward, Soble said, even though Coltharp’s religious beliefs surprised them somewhat, “from the beginning, he’s been very controlling, very manipulative. He’s always felt himself to be important, more important and smarter than everyone else.”
Daniels called the sentencing “a bizarre event. It was expected, however.”
Daniels said the Knights of the Crystal Blade were effectively disbanded. “I would say with their prophet and their second-in-command serving time in prison for life, it is safe to say the head of the snake is removed.”
However, another member of the cult is still facing felony charges—and new charges will be filed against Coltharp’s parents.
Robert Rowe faces charges of sodomy on a child, a first-degree felony. Keith and Cathy Coltharp will be facing obstruction of justice charges, a Class A misdemeanor, for their part in covering up evidence during the investigation.
“They were indeed members of the Knights,” Daniels said. “They were not, however, involved in the sexual abuse or the sexual activities. They could be facing a lot more serious charges, but because of the nature of their cooperation, they will face much less serious charges.”