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Tom Green, polygamist whose Utah trial captured international attention, dies at 72

Tom Green, a polygamist who promoted his lifestyle on television — until he was convicted of bigamy and then raping a 13-year-old girl — has died of COVID-19 pneumonia.

He was 72.

Green’s legal wife, Linda Kunz, and two of his plural wives, Cari Green and Shirley Beagley, confirmed his Sunday death in a brief phone call Wednesday with FOX 13.

Green began marrying in 1970 and had 10 wives overall, according to law enforcement investigations that were shared with journalists. Some of the spiritual marriages, as they’re often called, sputtered.

By 2000, he was living with Kunz, Beagley, Cari Green and two other women he considered wives, Hannah Bjorkman and LeeAnn Beagley. Also by then, readers and television viewers across the world had heard Green’s story.

He allowed journalists into his home in the desert near the Nevada line. He went on “The Jerry Springer Show,” “Dateline” and a variety of other programs, preaching his belief in polygamy. Photos and footage later would be used as evidence in his bigamy trial.

Green’s pre-Olympic trial

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Dinnertime in the Green home is full laughter among Tom Green and his wives in 2001.

Green contended it was his openness that Utah was really prosecuting. While Utah outlawed polygamy as a condition of statehood, there were — and still are — thousands of polygamists in the state.

Yet before Green’s first trial — months before Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Games — there hadn’t been a polygamy prosecution in years.

“There is a lot of pressure to send a message [to other polygamists] and lock me up so that they can shut me up during the Olympics,” Green told the British newspaper The Guardian before his 2001 trial. “I am sorry for the hardship that this causes my family, but I believe I have done the right thing.”

A jury in Provo convicted Green in May 2001 of four counts of bigamy and a count of failure to pay child support. Green was sentenced to concurrent terms of five years in prison.

The next year, Green waived his right to have a jury decide whether he was guilty of rape of a child and left the verdict up to then-4th District Judge Donald Eyre. The victim was Kunz, his stepdaughter and now his legal wife, who was 13 when she gave birth to Green’s child in 1986. Green was 38.

After a bench trial in Nephi, Eyre found Green guilty in June 2002. The judge sentenced him to up to life in prison.

Green received parole in the summer 2007. He had told the parole board he would not marry any more wives. As for the spouses he already had, he told the board he and the women would live in adjoining units of a quadplex in Springville to not again violate Utah’s bigamy law.

Green had about 30 children at the time of his parole, and he told the board he wanted to spend time with them, too.

His polygamous beginnings

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Tom Green speaks during his parole hearing at the Utah State Prison in 2004.

Thomas Arthur Green was born June 9, 1948. He was largely raised in a Holladay household that belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Utah-based faith officially abandoned polygamy in 1890 and ousts members today found practicing it.

Green developed a relationship with polygamous religious leader Ross Wesley LeBaron.

“I consider Ross my adoptive father,” Green told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2000.

By 1984, Green was courting his first plural wife. That spurred Green’s first legal wife, Lynda Penman, with whom Green had three children, to file for divorce.

Green’s wives came from a variety of polygamous sects, and some came from monogamous households. While Green’s beliefs were rooted in similar so-called fundamental Mormonism, he considered himself an independent polygamist — one not affiliated with a specific church.

Green and his family lived in Sandy until being evicted from a mobile home park there in 1995. For $30,000, Green bought 15 acres in Utah’s West Desert, planted a convoy of mobile homes there and called the place Greenhaven.

While Green’s lifestyle upset Utah’s public officials, they weren’t the only ones. When some former plural wives formed Tapestry Against Polygamy in the late 1990s, they made prosecuting Green one of their top causes.

Then-Juab County Attorney David Leavitt filed bigamy and failure to pay child support charges in April 2000. He filed the rape of a child charge two months later. (Leavitt is now the county attorney in Utah County.)

The trials were covered by news outlets across the world.

Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole terminated Green’s parole at the end of 2019. He remained on Utah’s sex offender registry the rest of his life. The registry listed him as living in South Jordan.

In 2020, the Utah Legislature reduced polygamy to an infraction — an offense less than some traffic tickets. Polygamy can still be a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison if it’s practiced in conjunction with fraud and abuse.

Supporters of the change said it would encourage plural families to report crimes like sex abuse.

Editor’s noteThe Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.

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