Provo, Utah -- Utah jurors on Tuesday watched an avowed polygamist boast in television interviews about his life with five wives and their children as his trial spotlights the once accepted but now forbidden practice of plural marriage.
"I'm the father of all these children and the husband of all these wives," Tom Green told an interviewer for a French television station on a videotape played for the jury.
Green, 52, is charged with four counts of third-degree felony bigamy and one count of failing to pay child support in what is believed to be the first polygamy trial in the United States in nearly 50 years. "I'm Hannah. I married him fifth. I married him when I was 14," one wife said on a videotape, key evidence in the trial.
The tapes from TV programs like "Dateline" and the "Jerry Springer Show" showed wives preparing meals and children jumping on a trampoline at their remote dessert compound in Utah. Defense attorney John Bucher objected to part of a tape in which Green, who has fathered 29 children, showed his bedroom and was asked about his sleeping arrangements.
Linda Green, whom Green married nearly 15 years ago when she was 14, said the women decide on the sleeping arrangements. But a hierarchy does exist. "If our family were a corporation, I'd be the CEO," Linda said on the tape.
The roots of polygamy go back to the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Utah-based Mormon church is formally called. Mormon prophet Joseph Smith taught that polygamy bestowed heaven's highest blessings. But the practice was outlawed after the U.S. government made it a condition of Utah becoming a state in 1896 and Mormons who practice polygamy are now excommunicated.
Linda divorced Tom after three years, paving the way for his second marriage. Prosecutors allege a scheme was hatched in which Green married and divorced the young women, but continued to live with them while they collected welfare.
"Tom Green believes it's big of him to have so many wives. The evidence will demonstrate it's bigamy," Juab County District Attorney David Leavitt, the brother of Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, told jurors.
Leavitt also said Green owes the state $54,000 for child support payments made by the state to the women even though Green was in the house. Green's lawyer told the jury that his client had a spiritual relationship with the women.
Green has argued that taking five wives was a serious decision and that he was charged because of his outspoken support on national TV for the practice of taking multiple wives. Green's attorney told jurors the women lived in the family homestead called Greenhaven of their own free will. "No one is forced to be there," Bucher said. "They do it from love."
Four of Green's wives were at the courthouse on Tuesday. One wife, LeeAnn Beagley, 26, is eight months pregnant and may have gone into premature labor, Green said during a break. Two other wives are also pregnant. On Monday, Beagley told Reuters she was very worried her husband would be convicted and go to prison. "If he goes to jail at the end of this week he won't be there when I have this baby," she said.
Each felony bigamy charge carries a prison term of up to five years. Green is also charged with first-degree felony rape of a child for allegedly having sexual relations in 1986 with a 13-year-old girl, whom he married, an offense that carries a prison term of five years to life. No trial date has been set for the rape charge.