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Green still seeks freedom

He takes appeal, release petition to higher court

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The attorney for polygamist Tom Green says he plans to ask the Utah Court of Appeals to set his client free pending his appeal on a conviction of bigamy and criminal nonsupport.

John Butcher said he filed a notice of appeal with the Utah Court of Appeals on Thursday. He also plans to file a certificate with the court seeking Green's freedom.

Green is currently serving a five-year sentence at the Utah State Prison for his conviction on four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport. The charges stem from his polygamous marriages to five women, with whom he has fathered more than 30 children.

A jury found that Green's cohabitation with his five wives met the definition of common-law marriage. Because no one can be married to more than one spouse under law, the jury found that Green was guilty of bigamy. Green was also found guilty of failing to pay the state back an estimated $78,000 for the public aid the state supplied to his family.

Green says Utah's bigamy law is constitutionally vague and claims he and his wives knowingly and willingly engage in their lifestyle out of religious belief.

Butcher said Thursday's notice makes good on Green's vow to continue to fight his conviction, but that Green needs to be free to allow him to work on his appeal.

"We feel optimistic," Butcher said of Green's chances of being released, "but then again we felt optimistic before."

Earlier this month 4th District Court Judge Guy Burningham denied an appeal to release Green, saying he considers Green a flight risk and a danger to society. Burningham said there is little guarantee that Green wouldn't go back to his wives and continue in a relationship deemed illegal.

Butcher said he plans to submit his motion to the high court and anticipates a hearing on the matter within two to three weeks.

Meanwhile, Butcher said he plans to file his arguments for appeal within the next few weeks as well. Butcher said he plans to claim it is unconstitutional for the state to use the common-law marriage definition in conjunction with the bigamy statute.

The issue over Utah's bigamy statute has outside parties interested in joining the legal battle.

A variety of religious and civil liberty groups have expressed an interest in joining the case as a friend of the court. The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed an interest in joining the legal fray in support of Green's claim.

Tapestry Against Polygamy has also expressed an interest in joining the legal fight to put more polygamists behind bars with a tougher bigamy law.

Butcher says he remains optimistic about the battle ahead. "We believe this is a legitimate and winnable issue," Butcher said.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com