SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former Utah judge who was removed from the bench in 2006 for being a polygamist has died after his semi-truck crashed down a ravine, authorities said Friday.
Walter K. Steed, 70, likely crashed off the southern Utah cliff shortly after leaving his home in Hildale on Saturday night, Hurricane Police Sgt. Brandon Buell said. The truck was found several days later, after his family reported him missing. Search and rescue crews found his body, and police are investigating what caused the crash.
The Utah Supreme Court removed Steed from his part-time judicial position nine years ago, after an investigation confirmed he had three wives.
Steed had served as a judge for 25 years on the Justice Court in the polygamist community of Hildale, where he ruled on misdemeanor crimes such as drunken driving and domestic violence cases. Justice Court judges are appointed by local officials and aren't required to have legal training.
Steed also worked as a truck driver during his judicial tenure. He was paid a few hundred dollars monthly for serving in the part-time judicial position.
After an investigation confirmed a complaint filed by an anti-polygamy group, the state's high court ruled Steed had to be removed because he violated the state's bigamy law.
At the time, Steed said he was disappointed in the decision because he hoped the court would correct what he called injustice in criminalizing his religious belief in polygamy. The portion of the law that made multiple "spiritual" marriages illegal was struck down by a federal judge in 2013, though the state is appealing.
The teaching that polygamy brings exaltation in heaven is a legacy of the early Mormon church. But the mainstream Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibits it today.
His son Kelly Steed says Walter Steed was a caring father of 35 children who helped people in need, and he moved on with his life after he was removed from the bench.