The following article discusses sexual abuse and child pornography
Sometime in 2010 or 2011, Paul Adams went to his Mormon bishop and confessed to not only molesting his young daughter, but also videotaping those sexual encounters and distributing them on the internet. What happened next, or rather what didn’t happen next, led to the continued abuse of that young child and the abuse of another daughter born several years later.
News of this case was originally reported by the Arizona Daily Independent in December of 2019, but new documents obtained by Truth & Transparency shed additional light on just how heinous Adams’ crimes were, what local religious leaders knew about those crimes, and when they knew it.
Paul and Leizza Adams were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon Church, living in the border town of Bisbee, Arizona. On February 8, 2017, the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement was assigned to investigate a tip regarding a video found on the internet containing child pornography. The clip was traced back to Paul, an employee of DHS as a Border Patrol Agent. A search warrant was immediately secured and executed in conjunction with the FBI and local law enforcement from Cochise County.
While the search warrant was being served at the couple’s residence, Paul was arrested and questioned at the Border Patrol station where he was on duty. He confessed to having molested his two daughters, born in 2005 and 2015, over the course of their lives. Court documents show that a number of videos and images involving the two daughters were found inside Adams’ home along with thousands of other pieces of child pornography.
A federal indictment with eight separate counts, all related to sexual abuse and production of child pornography with his daughters, was handed down on March 8, 2017. On December 16 of the same year, while Adams was in custody, but before his case was adjudicated, Adams died by suicide.
During the investigation into Paul, it was discovered that his wife, Leizza, knew about the abuse as far back as 2010 or 2011 and did nothing to stop it from happening. Cochise County charged her for crimes related to enabling and covering up the abuse. Leizza ultimately agreed to plead no contest. She was sentenced to two years in prison and is set to be released in the summer of 2020.
Truth & Transparency was able to obtain public records related to Leizza Adams’ case that not only paint a graphic picture of unspeakable abuse for over 6 years, but also gives a glimpse at real, tangible consequences that can occur when abuse is not reported. During Leizza’s sentencing, two key witnesses testified regarding their knowledge of the abuse.
Shaunice Warr was a Border Patrol Agent with Paul and attended the same Mormon congregation as the Adams family. She was a friend to Leizza through church and was, according to her, Leizza’s best friend. Warr testified that from the time she moved into the area, around 2011, until the time Paul was arrested, she had a strong sense that something was off in the Adams household and that some kind of abuse was happening. These feelings were based on how Leizza and the children acted around Paul and her own observations of Paul at work. Paul had an aggressive personality and had previously been disciplined for engaging in illegal activity with undocumented immigrants and making terroristic threats against the Border Patrol.
Warr did not have any proof or specific knowledge of any abuse, but felt so strongly that she repeatedly encouraged Leizza to leave Paul over the course of several years. According to Warr, Leizza would then quickly change the subject and never disclosed any abuse. When Paul was arrested, Warr immediately went to Leizza, as a friend, to find out what happened. Leizza was evasive at first but eventually admitted to Warr that Paul was sexually abusing their two daughters and that Paul had confessed to their local bishop, possibly as far back as 2010.
ICE Special Agent, Robert Edwards, who described this as one of the worst cases of abuse he has ever seen in his career, testified that he learned about the potential disclosure of the abuse to the bishop from Warr and went, unannounced, to speak with the bishop. John Herrod, a local doctor, was the bishop of the congregation the Adams’ attended from approximately 2004 to 2012 and agreed to talk to Agent Edwards when asked.
Herrod told Edwards that he believed the initial confession from Paul occurred in 2011. During this confession, it was disclosed to the bishop that the Adams daughter, who was six years old at the time, was being sexually abused and that the assaults were being video recorded. Herrod said that over the next 2 years, Paul continued to come and see him on a regular basis and often told him that the abuse was ongoing. Leizza was present during many of these confessions and, according to Herrod, would usually have no reaction to the disclosures. In 2012, a new bishop was installed and Herrod was no longer involved in the matter.When asked why he never called the police, Herrod explicitly stated that he had received instructions from the Mormon Church’s legal team in Salt Lake City not to report the abuse, but continue the one-on-one “counseling sessions” instead.
Kirton McConkie, a large law firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, was contracted out in 1995 by the Mormon Church to establish a hotline. Bishops around the world were told they must call this hotline for guidance anytime abuse was disclosed.
The Mormon Church’s policy on reporting abuse states that when local laws require the bishop to report, they instruct bishops to do so. In Arizona, clergy are exempt from reporting, which is presumably why Herrod was instructed not to report Paul to the police. Requests for comment from the Mormon Church and Kirton McConkie have gone unanswered.
The new adoptive families of the survivors feel the stated church policy failed. Tuscon attorney, Lynne Cadigan represents three of the Adams children, including the two daughters who were sexually assaulted. She stated “What the parents of the victims want more than anything is for the Mormon Church to change their policy and report all abuse.”
Cadigan, who has spent 35 years representing victims of sex abuse, believes the fact that the bishop knew about ongoing abuse negates the reporting exception as laid out by Arizona Statute. Cadigan also believes that, even if the bishop was not required to report, Shaunice Warr was required to report the abuse. At the time, Warr was a peace officer and, therefore, a mandated reporter. Neither Warr nor Herrod responded to request for comment.
Cadigan tells Truth & Transparency that if the Mormon Church refuses to change their policy they are “considering bringing legal action against the church for the horrific abuse that inflicted upon these children.”
The following documents contain graphic descriptions of child abuse
Leizza Adams’ Mitigation Hearing containing Warr’s testimony
Leizza Adams’ Sentencing Hearing containing Agent Edwards’ testimony
If you are a survivor a abuse, below are a list of resources that can be utilized in the United States. If you are not a resident of the US, we encourage you to search for resources near you.