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KINGMAN, Ariz. - Compelling testimony about how polygamous marriages work, coupled with birth certificates, proved enough for a Mohave County jury to find a Colorado City, Ariz., man guilty of two sex-crime charges Friday.
The jury found Kelly Fischer, 39, had engaged in sex with a 16-year-old girl he took as a plural wife about six years ago and that it occurred in the home they shared in Colorado City. Prosecutors had contended Fischer, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, conspired with Warren Jeffs, the faith's leader, and the girl's mother in arranging to have sex with her.
The jury took just over an hour to reach its verdict, despite the lack of testimony from a victim or a witness with firsthand knowledge of the crimes.
"The evidence was very direct in what conclusion we came to," said Debbie Henderson, the head juror, as she left the courthouse. "That made it really easy. The witnesses - all three - they knew what they were talking about."
Henderson also said birth certificates, which showed the girl was 17 when she gave birth to a child fathered by Fischer, were "definitely very good evidence."
Fischer was the first of eight men to stand trial on the sex crime charges, and Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said he hoped the verdict sent a message to the polygamous FLDS community that straddles the Utah/Arizona state line.
"This case is not about polygamy. It is about underage sex practices and having sex with underage girls, and I think the jury in this county is speaking for the fact that that is not something that should be tolerated, no matter where it happens," Smith said.
He also praised the jury for being able to understand the conspiracy charge, saying that the only way FLDS men enter marriages with underage girls is if "Warren Jeffs puts his stamp of approval on it."
Jeffs is a fugitive, wanted on the same Arizona charges, as well as a rape-as-an-accomplice charge in Utah for his role in arranging and conducting underage marriages. He has been on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" fugitive list since May 6.
Fischer, a construction contractor, sat stoically as the court clerk read the jury's verdict, and he left the courthouse without speaking.
Judge Steven F. Conn will sentence Fischer on Aug. 4. The charges - sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor - are class 6 felonies punishable by four months to two years in prison, or probation.
Bruce Griffen, Fischer's attorney, said he will seek probation, with the possibility of dropping the conviction from his record in the future, as allowed by Arizona law.
Smith said victims usually are allowed input on sentences, but since the girl has not been located, he doubted "we'll have much luck in that."
Fischer is listed as the father of her first child, born in 2001, and Griffen did not dispute that. Instead, he challenged the lack of specific information on where she conceived the child - raising questions about whether Arizona had jurisdiction in the case - and who else might have had a role in authorizing the relationship.
But Smith returned over and over to one theme: exploitation of minors.
According to testimony, the girl's mother was ''re-assigned'' as a wife to Fischer around 1997-98 and moved into his home with her children. Her daughter - who would become Fischer's third wife - was about 13 or 14.
Isaac Wyler, then an FLDS member, lived down the street and worked with Fischer on community service projects. Wyler testified that a couple of years later, he noticed the girl and Fischer frequently riding horses together.
Once they came up a creek near his home and Fischer asked Wyler, a horse trainer, for advice about how to get their horses to cross a large puddle.
"They were joking around a little bit, probably inappropriately for the way we were raised," he said, describing it as "courtship" behavior.
Wyler later heard the pair had been married in a secret FLDS ceremony - a rumor he felt was confirmed when he saw Fischer drive by one day with the girl seated in the vehicle between him and his legal wife.
That behavior is typical among polygamists who "rotate" seating arrangements among wives - a strong relationship signal in a faith that discourages displays of affection, said Wyler, who was kicked out of the FLDS church in 2004.
Richard Holm, also an ex-FLDS member, described how marriages are directed by the faith's prophet. No one can refuse such edicts, he said, without facing intense pressure and threats of, as Smith put it, "death and destruction."
Smith said that explanation showed why Fischer had to have approval from Jeffs and the girl's mother to father children with her.
"The only way it happened is the way you heard things happen up there," he said. "Sex with underage girls would be condoned up there. . . . But keep in mind that doesn't make it OK. . . . This is, in effect, sex with his stepdaughter. He's got to know that is wrong."
Smith told the jury that in sex abuse and domestic violence cases, there often is no victim testifying; nevertheless, cases go forward.
"You're her voice. You get to speak for the victim in this case," Smith said. "Don't let him get away with it."
Griffen argued the testimony was full of "guess, speculation and assumption," and characterized Wyler and Holm as disgruntled.
"Seeing [the girl] at a house is not circumstantial evidence of sexual intercourse at that house," said Griffen, who had suggested it was possible the girl became pregnant in some other state where Fischer worked.
"Don't rely on just culture," he urged jurors, asking them to put aside their feelings about polygamy, Jeffs and about men who father "a couple dozen football teams of children . . . to give a Colorado City fundamentalist a fair trial."
* Kelly Fischer will be sentenced Aug. 4.
* Seven other polygamists face identical charges: Dale Evans Barlow, 48, whose trial begins in August; Rodney Hans Holm, 39; Donald Robert Barlow, 49; Vergel Bryce Jessop, 46; Terry Darger Barlow, 24; Randolph J. Barlow, 33; and David Romaine Bateman, 49. They are the largest group to be prosecuted on charges related to polygamy since 1953, when Arizona staged an infamous raid on Short Creek, now known as Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.