Before leaving his family's compound in Utah's west desert for perhaps the last time, polygamist Tom Green placed his hands upon his teen-age son's head and ordained him into the "priesthood of the father."

Knowing that a bigamy conviction could land him behind bars for more than two decades, Green, a self-described Mormon fundamentalist, anointed 14-year-old Mel to become head of the household of five wives and 25 children.

The Tom Green Case

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  • "Mel will stand in my place in my absence," said Green, fighting back tears two weeks before his trial on four felony counts of bigamy and one count of criminal non-support. If Green is imprisoned, his family worries that their already arduous existence in remote Juab County--100 miles from the nearest grocery store--may become untenable.

    The women sell magazine subscriptions and run a telemarketing company out of their homes to carve out their meager lifestyle. If Green is imprisoned, they plan to earn commercial driver licenses so they can work rotating days as long-haul semi-truck drivers.

    "My biggest fear is that all our children might not see their father for 20 years. His kids would all be grown and gone by then," said Hannah Bjorkman, one of Green's five wives.

    Pregnant like three of the others, she battles tears at the thought of giving birth without her husband. In the past, they have given birth to their babies at Green's mother's Salt Lake City area home with the help of a midwife. Now, the women plan to deliver in a hospital in Delta, 100 miles away from home.

    Green's five-day trial begins Monday in Provo, and he has spent his time away from home working with his Salt Lake City lawyer. Bigamy, the technical violation used by prosecutors to charge polygamists, is a statute usually applied to a married person who secretly, and usually with intent to defraud, takes a second spouse.

    While Utah's most outspoken polygamist remains hopeful a jury will find him innocent, Green has "prepared for the worst" and taught his sons how to take care of many household duties.

    "I'm sort of nervous, but I'll be able to cope because I have so much help," said eighth-grader Mel, the oldest son living at home. "I feel humble."

    Green also anointed a younger son, Chris, to "the office of high priest" to serve as "a second elder, and Mel's assistant." But Green's five wives--including Mel's mother, Linda Kunz, who joined in the ordination ceremony with her husband--will have the final say.

    The Tom Green Case

    "Because [Mel's] young and inexperienced, the mothers get to override," Green said after the ordination ceremony. "I want to give him a chance to flex his muscles a little bit, to find out what it is like to be the head of a big family."

    That family, which includes more than two dozen children, fears life without their patriarch. Existence is difficult enough in the wind-ravaged compound of dilapidated trailers that form Greenhaven, the Green family's homestead at the far western edge of Utah.

    But between the chores are the family councils, breakfasts with the kids, a soothing hand on the shoulder in the evening. The women came here and stayed, they say, for love.

    Green, excommunicated from the LDS Church for practicing polygamy, says he is ready to go to prison for the sake of his religious beliefs but says he resents the burden that would place on his family. He accuses prosecutors of hypocrisy for singling him out from among more than 30,000 practicing polygamists in Utah, and says he has only been charged as a criminal because he is open about his lifestyle.

    Even if Green is acquitted, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has pledged to step up efforts to prosecute sex crimes within underground polygamous societies, based on the "widespread sexual abuse" his investigators found while working on Green's case.

    Green himself is charged in a separate case with first-degree felony rape of a child for allegedly impregnating Kunz, his first plural wife, when she was 13. A trial date has not been set.

    Shurtleff told The Salt Lake Tribune his office would focus on the crimes of rape, incest, and child abuse within polygamous communities when county prosecutors, for whatever reason, choose not to go after perpetrators. He plans to ask lawmakers for funds to step up such investigations; currently, there is one full-time investigator doing that work.


    In the past few weeks, Green has been fixing the family's vehicles and showing Mel how to repair the washing machine, which is regularly on the fritz because of the 10 loads of laundry the family does each day.

    The Tom Green Case

    "We pretty much are going to have to rely on each other," Bjorkman said. "It puts a huge burden on us ladies. We'll have to run the show."

    "We will probably survive and make things work," added head wife Linda Kunz. "Tom does a lot of handyman work and there's a lot to do. If he ends up in prison, us ladies will have to take a crash course in house repair."

    The women say the only welfare they take is food stamps. "A lot of people have the idea that if he goes to jail, the state is going to support his wives and children," Kunz said. "We are going to have to earn anything we get, other than a few food stamps and Medicaid."

    But mostly the women agree their biggest worry is their children will grow up fatherless.

    "These children should not have to go without a father," said wife LeeAnn Beagley. "Tom is a great father and his children adore him." Green's wives, however reluctant, are willing to look forward and put their trust in Mel to make grown-up decisions about their difficult lives. They say Mel is scared about the adult responsibility, but the women believe his father has prepared him well.

    For his part, Mel hopes God is listening. "I pray for my dad every day," he said.

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