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Defence argues reliability of evidence in polygamy trial

Crown hasn’t proven all necessary elements of polygamy offence, says lawyer.
Jim Oler (front left) and Winston Blackmore (right) are currently facing a polygamy charge and are standing trial in Cranbrook Supreme Court.

Reliability of religious records and the wording in the indictment were questioned by lawyers in closing arguments in the trial of two Mormon fundamentalists charged with polygamy.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler, who are associated with a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) community known as Bountiful, were charged with polygamy three years ago.

Closing arguments were presented to Justice Sheri Donegan, who is presiding over the trial in Cranbrook Supreme Court.

Crown relied heavily on marriage and personal records seized by law enforcement from an FLDS compound in Texas in 2008. However, Blair Suffredine, the defence lawyer for Blackmore, attacked the credibility of the records, noting some of the appeared to be photocopies and not originals, while also charging that the Crown hadn’t proved the elements in the indictment.

Suffredine argues that prosecutors needed to prove both a continual form of practicing polygamy as well as a form of conjugal union, the two elements noted in the indictment.

While crown points to the existence of the marriage records, they’re only a snapshot of one moment in time and not proof of a continuous relationship.

“There’s no evidence of who they lived with or how they lived,” said Suffredine.

The records are handwritten or typed, documenting celestial marriages over a period from 1990 to 2014, but some have a fax header from 2002, meaning they’re not original, said Suffredine. When they were found inside a secure vault in the FLDS Eldorado compound, they were unorganized and gathered from separate boxes and locations, he continued.

“How can you conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that that is reliable?” he asked.

The crown failed to prove that going through a marriage ceremony proves a conjugal union, Suffredine argued, noting that there was no evidence on how Blackmore lived with his wives, what home life was like, what economic supports were or attitudes towards childcare.

‘There might be lots of evidence out there, you just don’t have any of it,” Suffredine said.

While Jim Oler is self-represented, he does have the services of Joe Doyle, a amicus curiae who serves as a friend of the court to ensure a fair trial. Doyle made much of same arguments as Suffredine, arguing the unreliability of the FLDS records and that the crown didn’t prove Oler continuously practiced a form of polygamy.

The importance of record-keeping to mainstream Mormonism was explained by two experts in church history and doctrine, who testified that the faith believes what is sealed on Earth is sealed in Heaven.

Doyle pointed to Oler’s own record seized in the YFZ raid, noting there were important events missing, such as his elevation to presiding elder in June 2004.

Doyle also argued the crown failed to prove Oler was involved in continuously practicing polygamy concurrently from 1993 to 2009.

The 12-day trial focused primarily on the case brought forward by the crown, which included the FLDS records, testimony from Jane Blackmore, who is the first legal wife of Winston Blackmore, as well as RCMP officers who have been involved in various investigations into Bountiful dating back to 2005.

Suffredine opted not to bring a defence case or witnesses forward.

The Crown will present a rebuttal on Friday.

Suffredine has also filed notice to apply for a charter challenge alleging abuse of process. That requires a response from the federal Attorney General and will likely be addressed at the end of the trial once a verdict has been reached.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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