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Mormon Church Returns Court Records Donated By Bomb Suspect

April 12, 1986

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ About 300 century-old court documents donated to the Mormon Church by a suspect in two fatal bombings have been returned to the Illinois town where a mob killed church founder Joseph Smith 142 years ago.

Removal of court documents without permission is illegal, and the prosecutor in Carthage, Ill., said he would examine the documents before deciding what to do.

Church officials announced the return of the papers Friday and released a list of 48 other historical documents the church obtained from Mark Hofmann through donation, trade and purchase.

Hofmann, a document dealer who specialized in early Mormon history, is charged with murder in a pair of bombings here last October that killed two people.

Prosecutors here say Hofmann turned to murder to hide the forgery of documents he sold to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and private collectors.

His preliminary hearing is scheduled Monday on two counts of first-degree murder and 30 counts alleging fraud, theft by deception and bomb-making.

The church said the Hancock County, Ill., papers, dated 1831 to 1865, apparently are originals that normally are kept by the circuit court. Hofmann donated them to the church, according to a church statement.

The papers, donated in 1983, were examined for the first time as church historians compiled documents obtained from Hofmann for police investigators, the statement said.

They were not deemed to be historically significant to the church, the statement said.

The church said that of the 48 other items it obtained from Hofmann, seven were purchased for a total of $57,100. The rest were obtained by trading other historical documents or by donation.

Those documents include Hofmann’s most controversial finds. One was a handwritten blessing in which Smith named his son - not Brigham Young - as his successor. Another was the ″white salamander″ letter, in which early Mormon leader Martin Harris linked Smith to folk magic and treasure hunting.

Hofmann sold the salamander letter to Steven Christensen, one of the people he is accused of killing, for $40,000. Christensen later donated it to the church.

Bradley Rich, Hofmann’s attorney, declined to comment on the church statement.

John Neally, clerk of the Hancock County Circuit Court, said by telephone from Carthage, Ill., that the documents had been a part of a file on Smith, who was killed by a mob while jailed there in 1844.

Neally said the documents mostly were subpoenas, summonses and complaints stemming from the church’s tumultuous history in Illinois in the 1830s and 1840s.

He said two church representatives gave him the records Monday.

Circuit Judge Max Stewart said it is illegal to take court documents out of the courthouse without permission and he could not imagine anyone getting permission to take out 300.

County State’s Attorney Samuel J. Naylor said he will examine the documents before deciding what to do.

″I feel the same way about the records being in Salt Lake City as I’d feel about someone keeping the Declaration of Independence for three years. I don’t know if a violation has occurred, but I’m going to examine the box we’ve received and I’ll go from there,″ Naylor said.

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