Alleged cult leader, John Coltharp, appears in court
MANTI, Utah – The leader of a doomsday cult accused of kidnapping and child sex abuse tried to fire his court-appointed attorney and made statements in court the judge warned could be used against him at trial.
The courtroom theatrics overshadowed the disturbing details of the case Tuesday. It all began with John Coltharp, age 34, telling the judge he wants to be his own attorney.
“As I have watched this case unfold over the last five months, everything I have heard that is negative is the result of other people speaking for me, and nobody can speak for me better than me,” Coltharp told the court.
He added, “I was there with what allegedly occurred, and so I know what the facts are and I want to see to that.”
While speaking in court, Coltharp made what could be considered an admission of guilt, as he discussed the evidence against him.
The judge interrupted him and said, “You just made an admission there,” to which Coltharp replied, “I understand that. I did just make an admission there. There’s a lot of truth in what’s in here, but there’s a lot of information that is false, also.”
Coltharp’s court-appointed attorney, Paul Frischknecht, was clearly frustrated with his client as he tried to keep him from representing himself at a trial set for July on child sex abuse and kidnapping charges.
“If one insists on digging their own grave,” Frischknecht said. “We’ve had that discussion, your honor. My client is firm on his feelings, and I’ve said what I’ve said to him, and he’s just heard basically the same thing from the court.”
Coltharp, of Spring City, was charged in one case in Sanpete County with sodomy on a child, a first-degree felony, and child bigamy, a second-degree felony. He was arrested on charges of child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony, in an additional case.
In fall 2017, police said Coltharp loaded a U-Haul in the middle of the night and vacated his Spring City house, taking his two sons and two daughter,s between the ages of 8 and 4, and the children’s grandparents to live in a makeshift compound constructed out of Conex storage containers in a remote area of northern Iron County, approximately a mile west of Lund.
A total of six children and four adults were living in the containers, which totaled approximately 800 square feet, according to police.
According to court records, Coltharp’s ex-wife called Coltharp a “doomsday prepper who believes that the world will soon come to an end.”
When authorities found the compound in December and arrested Samuel Warren Shaffer, an alleged cult member, Coltharp’s two girls were found hidden in a plastic 50-gallon water barrel that Shaffer had allegedly made them stay in for at least 24 hours, according to charging documents.
Shaffer’s own two children were found in an abandoned mobile home “in deplorable living conditions” and were in “poor health, with signs of dehydration and acting lethargic,” according to court records.
After a long discussion behind closed doors, when the prosecutor said he showed Coltharp new evidence in the case, Coltharp’s tone suddenly changed.
“It’s just from that cooperating witness,” said Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels said. “What that cooperating witness would testify to, I’m not ready to divulge who that cooperating witness is, but it is somebody who is involved in the case.”
The information may come from fellow Knight of the Crystal Blade member Shaffer, who has already pleaded guilty to charges in Iron County, yet faces similar charges in Sanpete County.
The prosecutor said he believes Coltharp is rethinking a plea deal.
“Keep in mind, he is innocent until proven guilty,” Daniels said. “He hasn’t pled to anything, but if he is convicted at trial, I plan on seeking the harshest sentence possible.”
In the end, Coltharp agreed to keep his attorney on board until he has a chance to meet with the prosecutor over possible plea negotiations.
A new court date was set for May 30.
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