Samuel Shaffer, 34, was jailed in Utah on Tuesday for at least 26 years in prison.
Self-proclaimed doomsday-sect prophet Samuel Shaffer will serve 26 years to life in the Utah State Prison after taking an 8-year-old girl as his bride.
Shaffer was sentenced Tuesday in 5th District Court to 25 years to life for child rape and one to 15 years for child abuse. Based on the gravity and circumstances of the case as well as the number of victims, Judge Matthew Bell chose to impose the sentences consecutively.
“Mr. Shaffer’s crimes are unquestionably serious and they warrant the severe penalties that are provided by Utah law,” he said.
The 34-year-old leader of the Knights of the Crystal Blade admitted in February to engaging in a sexual act with the 8-year-old daughter of John Coltharp, a fellow member of the Iron County-based religious sect.
Shaffer told county investigators he had married Coltharp’s daughter and that Coltharp had married Shaffer’s 7-year-old daughter. Court documents state Shaffer said he had physically inspected the girl to determine if she was a virgin.
The judge said Tuesday, “The facts regarding the abuse inflicted by the defendant and the grave risks that were presented to his victims are egregious. Mr. Shaffer, I want to be clear. You’re not being sentenced based on religious views. You’re being sentenced based on your parental conduct, which is highly disturbing.”
Bell went on to outline the suffering Shaffer’s multiple victims endured.
“Some you abused directly. Some apparently suffered abuse at the hands of others but with your permission,” Bell said. “The victims in this case are quite young. … Rather than care for and protect them as you claim was your intent, you groomed, endangered and exploited these victims.”
Prior to sentencing, Shaffer addressed the court. He became emotional as he told the court he had considered suicide when faced with the prospect of testifying against Coltharp. Both men were held in Sanpete County jail on charges related to this incident earlier this year.
“Because of the seriousness of my charges, I agreed to testify in John Coltharp’s case,” Shaffer said. “I remember at that time I was worried that, because of my fear of the situation that I would in some way betray my friend more than he deserved to be betrayed, and whether that fear is legitimate in your eyes or not, I was about to kill myself so that I wouldn’t testify against him.”
Shaffer said a message from a fellow inmate absolved him.
“He said, ‘I have a message from John Coltharp and the message is that he wants you to testify against him because he’s scared for you and he loves you,’ ” Shaffer said.
He went on to say he wanted to afford the same courtesy to one of his victims.
“I don’t want her to blame herself in the future for putting me away. I want her to know that I’m glad she testified against me,” he told the court. “I want her to know that everything that’s happening to me is my fault and it’s not her fault. I love her and I respect her. And it’s OK that she talked.”
Shaffer said he wanted to clarify the events of Dec. 3-4, when an Amber Alert for Coltharp’s two daughters led to a search and then a nightlong chase that ended with the discovery of two of Shaffer’s four victims hiding in a water barrel. The other two victims were found later in a trailer nearby. The victims were exposed to subfreezing temperatures for many hours, authorities have said.
Once all four girls were found, they were transported to Cedar City Hospital for medical evaluation and treatment for hypothermia. One of Shaffer’s daughters was transported via Life Flight to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake.
Shaffer still faces second-degree felony counts of obstructing justice in that case, as well as child bigamy, and two counts of first-degree felony sodomy of a child in Sanpete County.
Coltharp, who was taken into custody in Sanpete County on Dec. 1, had told investigators his children were in Shaffer’s care but refused to reveal where they were. He has been charged with child-kidnapping and obstruction of justice charges related to the incident, in addition to previous counts of first-degree sodomy and second-degree child bigamy. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Shaffer said Tuesday he wanted to address the “barrel incident,” saying he put two of the children in the barrel to protect them from the elements. The arrival of law-enforcement officers kept him from placing the other two girls in another barrel, he said.
“When police officers showed up at the junkyard, I had a gun with me and I began to prepare myself to get into a firefight with the police,” he said.
After receiving some sort of “prompting,” he said, he chose to leave the weapon behind and run away with the other two victims.
As the chase continued through the night, Shaffer said he decided he needed to find shelter for the two girls. He left them in an abandoned trailer before heading to the road where he said he knew he would be caught.
He shared his last words with one of the victims before he left her in the trailer.
“I said, find me when you’re older and she said, I love you.”
Iron County Attorney Gary Edwards weighed in on Shaffer’s story.
Noting that he didn’t think it would be helpful to outline why the defendant’s story was incorrect, Edwards added a few facts to the narrative.
“The one thing I do want to point out is he mentioned that he only put them where he did, put them in this trailer to keep them out of the weather. However, he actually told the children to use a different name if they were found,” Edwards said. “The children also disclosed that the defendant told them that they could use that gun that he left at the water barrels on law enforcement if they came for them.”
Edward went on to say that the case was one of the more shocking cases he’d seen and the defendant’s statements did not in any way mitigate just how “deplorable and despicable his conduct was.”
Reading a statement from the presentence investigation report, Edwards turned attention to the gravity of the crimes.
“These children will bear the consequences of deep trauma, self-blame, unimaginable shame from the sexual abuse of the most vulgar and heinous elements of a criminal nature,” Edwards read. “Mr. Shaffer, in calculated increments, manipulation, deception and salacious grooming of power and control, satisfied his deviant sexual appetites under the guise of a religious fanaticism and doomsday paranoia.”
Family of the victims offered no statements in court Tuesday.
Shaffer’s mother was given time to speak prior to sentencing.
“I am not here to justify any actions of Samuel Shaffer. I’m here to ask for help for him,” she said.
She asked that the judge consider where her son would be placed to serve his sentence and said placing him in the regular prison population would not be just.
“He needs help,” she said. “He needs mental help.”
Shaffer’s esoteric beliefs are outlined in writings, podcast and videos hosted on a website titled “The Kingdom of God or Nothing.” He asserted that his beliefs, including plural marriage and child unions, were handed down to him by God directly on June 22, 2015.
Search warrants related to the case revealed police had expected to find a notebook detailing their plans to kidnap even more children as they prepared for the impending end of the world.
“John and Sam both believed that the end of the world was near,” according to the warrant. “Also expected in the recorded notes or revelations is the plan by John and Sam to abduct more family children about the time of the anticipated Muslim invasion of the United States, which was imminent.”