The cult leader wanted to have children with his 8-year-old child bride
Utah man Samuel Shaffer dreamed of growing old with the 8-year-old he took as his child bride — but the leader of a doomsday cult will now be aging behind bars.
Shaffer, 34, was convicted Wednesday on one count of rape of a child and one count of child sodomy. According to multiple reports, he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison — and Utah State Courts spokesman Geoff Fattah tells PEOPLE he will spend a minimum of 26 years behind bars.
The sentence for the co-leader of the Knights of Crystal Blade, a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon Church, comes after Shaffer told detectives that he was married to the 8-year-old daughter of John Coltharp, another cult member. Coltharp, who pleaded guilty on June 13 to charges of child sodomy and child bigamy, said he was married to Shaffer’s 7-year-old daughter, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by Salt Lake Tribune.
Coltharp’s sentencing is scheduled for August 8.
Shaffer told deputies he had been the prophet of the church — which believes in doomsday prophecies and practices polygamy — but had recently passed down the title to Coltharp.
Police began investigating the situation on Dec. 1 after Coltharp’s ex-wife called police to report Coltharp had kidnapped their four children, according to an Iron County Sheriff’s Office press release previously obtained by PEOPLE.
Shaffer was taken into custody and told police where they could find two of the girls. Deputies discovered one of Shaffer’s daughters and one of Coltharp’s daughters inside two blue plastic 50-gallon water barrels located approximately 1,000 yards south of the Coltharp property. Shaffer told police the two girls had been placed in the water barrels to hide them from law enforcement.
Police said the two girls had spent approximately 24 hours inside the barrel in subfreezing temperatures. “These two children were not properly dressed for the cold temperatures and did not have food or water at that time,” the release states. “Shaffer also made statements he had left a firearm behind on the ground next to the barrel.”
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Police said Shaffer initially refused to tell authorities the whereabouts of the remaining two girls but that he finally did. The girls were found in “poor health with signs of dehydration and acting lethargic” in an abandoned single-wide mobile trailer, police said.
All four girls were transported by ambulance to the Cedar City hospital where they received emergency medical care.
PEOPLE was unable to immediately reach Shaffer’s attorney, Troy Sundquist, so it was not clear if he plans to appeal the sentencing.