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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Salt Lake City: LeBaron brothers seek incest law changes

Elend LeBaron says his suspicion of incest in his father's family was awful. But it was almost as difficult to learn a loophole in Utah law left prosecutors unable to do anything about it.

Now, he and two brothers are trying to get incest laws changed in Utah and two other states to broaden law enforcement's ability to go after the crime.

The legislature's criminal justice interim committee unanimously approved a bill proposed by Sen. Dennis Stowell , R-Parowan to apply the charge to a child conceived without sexual intercourse. It allows prosecutors to rely on genetic tests to build cases, and extends the reporting period for incest from four to seven years.

An amendment added Wednesday morning to the proposed bill clarifies that the law would not prohibit use of fertilized human eggs in surrogate pregnancies, as long as the sperm and egg came from unrelated individuals.

Stowell said Utah would be the first state to adopt such legislation if the bill is eventually approved.

Elend LeBaron of Delta told the committee that he and two brothers had long been suspicious about who was fathering children with two of their adult sisters. A year ago, they secretly obtained genetic samples that "transformed our suspicion into a very hard reality."

The tests found a high probability that two children, one from each sister, were fathered by their father and most likely another brother.

Elend LeBaron said they met with their father and siblings to confront them with the genetic evidence. During that meeting, one sister commented that artificial insemination was not illegal.
Prosecutors later confirmed that Utah law defines incest as sexual intercourse.

Troy A. Little, chief deputy Iron County Attorney, said his office interviewed Elend LeBaron's father and sisters but were unable to go forward with a prosecution because the family claimed the conceptions were the result of artificial insemination. Little said that a still unaddressed obstacle is how to prove jurisdiction for prosecuting the crime, which lawmakers also acknowledged was a problem.

"Incest isn't that difficult to figure out genetically but the location of the act is very difficult to figure out," said Steve Urquhart, R-St. George.

Elend LeBaron said before the hearing that it was embarrassing to disclose his family problems publicly.

"I am not real thrilled to go and tell everyone my dad does this," he said. "But after finding out what was going on, media coverage and legislation is the best hope in protecting my younger sister from this danger. What we are doing now will have no influence on the past. My objective is to change the law so that should more children be born, with DNA testing we can prosecute."

Their father is a member of the polygamous LeBaron clan, but broke away in the 1950s. In the 1970s, his uncle Ervil LeBaron murdered men he considered his rivals and later died in prison.
Elend LeBaron told the committee that incest has "been occurring in Utah amongst a number of polygamists for a very long time.

Girls in "some of these small religious organizations have been indoctrinated their entire lives to believe God wants them to marry and have children with their father, their brother or their uncle," he said.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has been investigating the polygamous Kingston clan for incest violations but has not filed any charges. The group has sanctioned marriages between half siblings and an uncle and niece in the past.

Elend LeBaron said his family members believe God "wants them to do this sort of thing" and that God will ensure no birth defects occur. He believes his father "fancies" that his younger sister and brother will together produce "the future leader's of God's kingdom.

"I believe in protecting religious freedom but incest of this nature crosses a very important line in as much as it is a crime against the unborn," Elend LeBaron said.

Mario Capecchi, a University of Utah professor and Nobel Prize-winning geneticist provided a written statement to the committee that said offspring of parent/child or brother-sister matings have a defect risk in the range of 25 percent to 50 percent. The genetic risk from first cousin matings -- legal in many states -- is approximately 6 percent to 8 percent.

John M. Opitz, a professor of pediatric genetics at the University of Utah told the committee first-degree relatives, such as a father and daughter, share 50 percent of their genes and thus have an "exponentially" greater risk of malformations, mental retardation and mortality.

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