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Written ruling released in Bountiful case
The release of Justice Paul Pearlman’s written verdict on three members of a polygamous community that faced child trafficking charges sheds further light on the challenges of prosecuting the alleged crimes in court.
Of the three charged with removing a child from Canada under a criminal code subsection that their removal would facilitate sexual interference or sexual touching, Pearlman found two guilty.
Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore were convicted while James Oler was acquitted.
The three were charged with bringing their underage daughters across the Canadian border into the United States in March and June of 2004 to marry members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).
It was the first time that a removal of a child from Canada charge had been prosecuted in a Canadian court.
Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore will be back in Cranbrook for a sentencing hearing in April, however, Oler will also heading back to Cranbrook Supreme Court for trial on a polygamy charge, along with Bountiful leader Winston Blackmore.
With the successful conviction of Brandon and Emily Blackmore, it remains to be seen if the government will pursue further removal of a child from Canada charges for other FLDS members, especially since it provides an avenue for prosecutors without getting bogged down in the constitutional argument of whether polygamy is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Looking at the evidence
Much of the evidence against the three was circumstantial in nature.
Crown counsel, led by special prosecutor Peter Wilson, relied on testimony from former FLDS members who had left Bountiful who talked about what life was like growing up in the fundamentalist faith.
That evidence mainly consisted of religious doctrine, the role of women in the family unit and their strict obedience to the father or husband — the priesthood-head — who must follow the instructions of the FLDS prophet to the letter.
Other witness evidence included testimony from witnesses who confirmed the presence of the two underage girls at the locations where their weddings took place.
However, much of the case also relied on evidence seized by U.S. law enforcement on a FLDS compound in Texas in 2008. Those records included FLDS marriage certificates, priesthood records and personal records from FLDS members, including Warren Jeffs, the group’s leader and prophet.
During the voire dire — a process that determines the admissibility of evidence before a trial — Pearlman ruled that portions of FLDS records would be admissible.
According to FLDS doctrine, what is sealed on earth is sealed in Heaven, which is why meticulous records were kept and safely stored in something resembling a bank vault.
Testimony from Richard Bennett, a professor of church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University who was raised in the mainstream Mormon faith, along with evidence from a former wife of Jeffs, punctuated the importance of record-keeping.
In order for Pearlman to arrive at a guilty conviction, Wilson had to prove six elements of the removal of a child from Canada offence. Interestingly, the special prosecutor needed only to prove that the accused intended for sexual interference or sexual touching to occur once the child was removed from Canada.
That was established by evidence from former FLDS members who testified that women were instructed to submit to their husbands in all matters and that sexual activity was intended for the purposes of procreation and bear children which are inhabited by celestial spirits upon conception.
Birth records show that Brandon Blackmore's daughter was 13 years old when she was married to Jeffs. Pearlman also cited marriage records and eyewitness testimony, who confirmed that Brandon said he dropped his daughter off at Jeffs' house before the wedding after US Customs records didn't show her in the vehicle when he, Emily and another daughter crossed the border.
He also pointed to school records showing that both daughters were enrolled in school since kindergarten at Bountiful Elementary Secondary School up to February 2004.
According to the personal records, the weddings were ordered by Jeffs, who contacted Blackmore in Canada and told him to bring his daughter to him to be married.
Jeffs gave the same order to Oler in June, telling him to bring his daughter for a marriage in Nevada.
However, prosecutors were not able to establish that Oler was even in Canada in order for him to remove his daughter from the country, which is why he was acquitted.
Oler faced a slightly different charge than the two Blackmores; his removal of a child from Canada charge was under a subsection that the removal would place the child in a position of dependency.
Interestingly, while Pearlman acquitted Oler on the charge, he also ruled that Oler would have foresaw that facilitating his daughter's marriage would her in a position of dependency.