A husband in the large polygamous Kingston clan pleaded guilty to third-degree felony incest Thursday for engaging in an illegal sexual relationship with a minor female who is his cousin.
Jeremy Ortell Kingston, 32, entered a guilty plea before 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan and faces a potential sentence of up to five years in prison, although it is possible Kingston will spend only a year in jail as part of a plea bargain.
The charge emerged when Kingston's former polygamous wife, LuAnn, approached prosecutors with her claim that she had been pressured into a "spiritual marriage" with Jeremy Kingston in 1995 when she was 15. After bearing two children and becoming disillusioned with the polygamous lifestyle, she left the Kingstons under police escort.
LuAnn Kingston suggested Thursday that Jeremy Kingston pleaded guilty to protect the clan from any outside scrutiny. "The fact that there won't be any witnesses speaking (at a preliminary hearing and a trial) probably protects them," she said.
For his part, Jeremy Kingston said he still cares for his former polygamous wife and their two daughters, ages 4 and 5.
"I love all my children, including LuAnn's, and I want to support my children," he said outside the courtroom. "I entered the plea bargain so I could continue to support my children."
However, LuAnn Kingston said Jeremy Kingston has paid very little child support, the state is trying to garnish his wages to help support their daughters and he just recently wrote to her asking for visitation rights. "I thought, 'After 3 1/2 years, you're contacting me now?' "
In court, Jeremy Kingston admitted that he had a sexual relationship with LuAnn Kingston starting when she was 15 and that she was his first cousin. He said that his mother and LuAnn Kingston's mother are sisters, and her father is his grandfather.
At the time, LuAnn Kingston contends that Jeremy Kingston, then 24, was legally married to one woman, and had entered into polygamous marriages with two others, although he was not related by blood to these women.
Assistant Attorney General Polly Samuels said her office had agreed as part of the plea bargain to recommend no more than a year in jail. However, Samuels noted the judge is not bound by any recommendations.
Maughan ordered a pre-sentence report and set Jan. 5 as a sentencing date.
Samuels also said her office would recommend that if Jeremy Kingston abides by the conditions of felony probation for three years, the Attorney General's Office would consent to reducing the charge to a class A misdemeanor.
Questioned about polygamy after the court hearing, Samuels said the charge in this case was incest and it was addressed. "We're happy justice was served by him pleading guilty to the felony," she said.
LuAnn Kingston, meanwhile, said she was happy with the outcome and plans to speak at the sentencing, although she needs time to think about what she will ask the judge to do.
Kingston said she came forward because she heard other young girls were being pressured into polygamous marriages. "I felt I had a duty to do something about it, although this is just a dent."
She said it would take many more people coming forward to put a stop to child marriages and incest within the clan.
At least one other Kingston woman has taken legal action against the family. Mary Ann Kingston, now 22, in August filed a $110 million civil lawsuit against 242 individuals and 97 businesses owned by the family. She alleges she suffered sexual and physical abuse after being forced to become a teenage bride of her uncle and was severely beaten by her father when she tried to escape the relationship.
Her suit claims that the family members either directly contributed to the abuse, or knew about it and did nothing to stop it.