MANTI, Utah – The leader of a central Utah doomsday cult has been sentenced to serve 26-to-life in prison for child bigamy and sodomy.
John Alvin Coltharp, 34, was sentenced in Manti’s 6th District Court on Wednesday. He pleaded guilty in June to the charges. In exchange, Sanpete County prosecutors dismissed kidnapping and obstruction of justice charges.
In strong words to the judge, Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels said he wished he could have sought the death penalty against Coltharp because of the trauma inflicted on as many as six children.
Coltharp himself delivered a rambling speech that included a prophecy about the end of times and declared himself the reincarnation of Old Testament prophets Jacob, Elijah and John.
"My marriage was the right thing to do," Coltharp said of the crimes. "If I’m a sex offender for what I’ve done. If I go to the other side, I’ll be in good company with all those other sex offenders I’ve read about in the scriptures."
Coltharp declared there was a war against straight, white men in the world and blamed "feminism." He told the judge he had religious freedom to practice his beliefs, which included child marriage and took issue with waiting until they were 18.
Midway through his remarks, Coltharp declared the Lord was directing him to speak.
"There’s changes coming to the world, including this state," he said. "Those changes are close. This government will be overthrown as will all the governments of the world."
He was unapologetic about any trauma caused to the children, arguing that the state inflicted that upon them.
"I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I taught it to my children and wives, and I’m sorry for the things they had to suffer that are truly bad," Coltharp told the judge.
Steve Soble, a grandfather to some of the victims, told the judge he hoped Coltharp would get "prison justice."
"It’s nice to know that most likely he will be spending the rest of his life in prison and we hope it is very, very uncomfortable for him," he said outside of court.
Soble said the children were getting ready to finally start school and trying to move forward with their lives.
"There’s struggles. It’s not easy, but they’re making it. We’re going to make sure they have the love and support they need," he said.
Coltharp was a leader in the tiny, apocalyptic group known as the "Knights of the Crystal Blade" based in Spring City. Prosecutors described them as a "fundamentalist group for Millenials," saying members met on Facebook. There are believed to only be a half dozen members.
An AMBER Alert was issued last year for four children reported missing in central Utah. Police found two of them in a mobile home west of Cedar City. Two others were recovered hiding in empty water barrels with temperatures dipping near freezing. Iron County prosecutors alleged the children likely would have died in those conditions.
Coltharp was charged alongside Samuel Shaffer. Shaffer told Iron County Sheriff’s deputies he was "betrothed" to Coltharp’s 8-year-old daughter. Shaffer also told police Coltharp was married to his 7-year-old daughter.
Shaffer pleaded guilty in Cedar City’s 5th District Court and is serving 26-to-life in prison for child rape and child abuse.
Outside court, Daniels said Coltharp believed himself a religious martyr.
"If he wants to be a martyr, I’m more than happy to fill the role of the individual who drops the sword on his head," he told FOX 13.
Daniels said he is still pursuing charges against other members of the group. Sanpete County prosecutors filed a felony charge against another member of the Knights of the Crystal Blade. Robert Roe, 35, was charged with first-degree felony sodomy on a child. Daniels alleges Roe took a 5-year-old girl as a bride.
He’s scheduled to appear in court in October. Two others face obstruction of justice for hindering the police investigation, Daniels said.