A self-proclaimed prophet and doomsday-cult leader in Utah has been sentenced to at least 26 years in prison for sexually abusing and marrying young girls while promoting polygamy.
Judge Marvin Bagley told 35-year-old John Coltharp in 6th District Court that Coltharp’s beliefs and promotion of child marriage are wrong and aren’t mentioned in any biblical document, according to The Associated Press. But Coltharp remained defiant in court, claiming he was following “heavenly laws” and that he himself was an Old Testament figure.
Coltharp, who was sentenced on Aug. 8, could spend life behind bars pending a parole-board determination. In June, he pleaded guilty to sodomy and child bigamy charges.
The judge said he hoped Coltharp is never released.
Authorities say Coltharp helped create an extremist cult dubbed the “Knights of the Crystal Blade,” based on arcane Mormon ideas long abandoned by the mainstream church, according to AP. He and his friend, Samuel Shaffer, 34, built a makeshift settlement from shipping containers in the desert and used it as a base. Their beliefs included an imminent end of the world, polygamy, and child marriage.
Both men have described the cult as a “fundamentalist group for millennials” that formed online. Both have also held the self-proclaimed title of prophet at different points in time.
Coltharp was arrested in December 2017, after deputies discovered four children hidden in water barrels at the makeshift compound. The mother of two of the children had reported them missing, along with her two sons. The men had kidnapped their own children and taken them to the settlement.
According to prosecutors, the men married each other’s daughter and took on their own 4-year-old daughters as child brides. All four of the girls had spent 24 hours in freezing temperatures by the time they were discovered.
Shaffer is also serving a sentence of 26 years to life imprisonment, following a separate conviction.
Authorities said a third man who joined the group after meeting the pair via Facebook also was charged with child sexual abuse. Two other followers have also cooperated with authorities.