A controversial Northern Arizona polygamist church must compensate a Colorado City couple for their home or allow them to stay on church property, a judge ruled Thursday.
Mohave County Superior Court Judge James Chavez dismissed the complaint filed by The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against Lenore and Milton Holm.
Chavez ruled that United Effort Plan, the financial arm of the church, has the right to the residence during Milton Holm's lifetime but "only upon payment of fair compensation for the improvements on the land."
Lenore Holm screamed with delight at hearing the news.
I'm so gratified to God," she said.
"This will prove there's freedom to other people living on UEP land."
Lenore Holm said her son also built a home on UEP property and has been afraid even to communicate with his mother for fear of losing his home.
Holm said her son even changed his last name to Jeffs, the same name of the church's leader, Warren Jeffs.
Holm said she was not sure where she and her husband would move should the church force them to leave and compensate them for the home.
She said she prefers to stay in that area despite hostility by the church.
At $60 a square foot, Holm estimates their 3,600-square-foot partially completed home is worth more than $200,000.
Once finished, the home would be more than 5,000 square feet.
Chavez, however, ruled that Lenore Holm's rights are dependent upon her husband's arrangement with UEP because she does not have a direct arrangement with the church.
"It is the court's opinion she has no property right separate from that of Milton Holm," Chavez ruled.
Chavez agreed with the Holms' argument that by evicting them the church would be "unjustly enriched at defendants' expense."
Salt Lake City attorney Rodney Parker, who represented UEP, said Wednesday he is not sure what his clients will do.
He hinted he might appeal the ruling.
During trial last week, Parker argued that UEP owned the property and the church had the right to evict people who are not members of the church.
The church openly practices polygamy mostly in Colorado City and Hildale, which straddle the Arizona-Utah border.
The Holms' defense was that UEP tried to force them out of their home because Lenore Holm refused to allow her then-16-year-old daughter, Nicole, to marry a church member, 39-year-old Wynn Jessop, who was married with children.
The Holms' attorney, George McKay of Phoenix, argued that just minutes after Lenore Holm's refusal of her daughter's marriage, the church tried to evict them.
During the trial, Milton Holm testified that when he asked to build a home on church property in 1976, he was assured by the church's former leader, Leroy Johnson, that he could build and live on the property forever.
Holm testified that he bought or traded for most of the building materials for the home, which he built mostly himself.
"Because he (Milton Holm) expected to reside on the property, he built a residence at considerable expense," Chavez ruled.
"He invested in the residence with the consent of the Trust (UEP)."
McKay could not be reached for comment.