By Tom Haraldsen
CEDAR CITY—A 34-year-old man pled guilty in Fifth District Court last week to one count of Rape of a Child and one count of Child Abuse. Samuel Shaffer faces at least 24 years in prison on the first charge.
Shaffer and another man were arrested in western Iron County in December after police found four young girls hidden in 50-gallon water barrels and an abandoned trailer near a makeshift compound. Shaffer and fellow self-styled prophet John Coltharp, 34, reportedly created a group called the Knights of the Crystal Blade. Prosecutors say the two conducted secret marriages to the girls.
Pursuant to a plea agreement, the Iron County Attorney’s Office agreed to forgo additional charges unless the ongoing examination of seized electronic devices yields evidence of child pornography, which could result in additional charges. Additionally, the plea agreement does not affect criminal charges Shaffer faces in Sanpete County. The court scheduled the sentencing hearing for April 10.
According to a release from the sheriff’s office, Iron County Sheriff Detectives and the County Attorney’s Office spent many hours going over the evidence to determine the appropriate charges and ensure justice was served in this case.
“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,” said ICSO Det. Sgt. David Mitchell. “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.”
Each man believed they were married to two girls, ages 4 to 8. The girls were related to the men, and authorities believe the two older girls were sexually abused. After the girls were located, they were treated for dehydration and the effects of cold temperatures.