Former FLDS members reveal details in Bountiful trial

Two witnesses take the stand, judge allows evidence to roll over into main trial.

  • Nov. 28, 2016 1:00 p.m.

Witnesses continued to testify in the trial of three people from the polygamous community of Bountiful who are facing alleged child trafficking charges.

The trial in Cranbrook Supreme Court has moved into its second week as Crown counsel, led by special prosecutor Peter Wilson, called witnesses to elicit evidence against Brandon Blackmore, James Oler and Emily Blackmore, who are each charged with the alleged unlawful removal of a child from Canada stemming from events in 2004.

Esther Palmer, a former member of Bountiful — a community south of Creston that was founded by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), wrapped up her testimony, while Rachel Jeffs, the daughter of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, was also questioned by lawyers.

Judge Paul Pearlman also delivered an important ruling by allowing evidence heard in a voir dire — a procedure before trials that determines the admissibility of evidence and is subject to a publication ban — to be admitted in open court.

Rolling the evidence from the voir dire over into the main trial required the consent of all three defendants, however, when the judge asked for consent, all James Oler and Emily Blackmore — who are self-represented — would say was that they took no position on the matter.

While James Oler and Emily Blackmore are unrepresented, they have the services of Joe Doyle, who is serving as amicus — a court-appointed representative who preserves the integrity of the proceedings. Brandon Blackmore does have representation from John Gustafson.

Evidence rollover

Judge Pearlman’s ruling on allowing the evidence heard during the voir dire to roll over into the main trial will save the court roughly two weeks of trial time.

Had the evidence not been allowed to roll over, Crown counsel would have had to recall all the witnesses to testify and resubmit their evidence.

The rollover centred on the issue of consent.

When asked to allow the rollover of evidence by Judge Pearlman, Oler and Emily Blackmore repeatedly said they took no position.

Wilson argued Oler and Emily Blackmore had given neutral answers rather than opposing the rollover and noted that they had opportunity to cross-examine witnesses during the voir dire and never did.

Wilson also said they applied not to be present during the trial and had advised Judge Pearlman that they would not question any witnesses if they were recalled during trial.

In his decision, Pearlman added that he would be willing to hear submissions if circumstances arise where Gustafson and Doyle wish to recall witnesses from the voir dire, which focused heavily on records evidence seized by U.S. law enforcement.

Records evidence

Wilson had sought the admissibility of marriage records, personal records and priesthood records kept by the FLDS and seized by U.S. law enforcement at the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) compound in Eldorado, Texas in 2008.

The records were kept in a vault, where police had to bore through a two-foot concrete wall, the interior of which contained stacks of boxes and storage cabinets equipped with locks.

Records seized include FLDS documents, computers, thumb drives and photographs, with Texas authorities seizing between 600-700 boxes of evidence.

Pearlman’s ruling allows the admissibility of the priesthood records, which contains information relating to marriages performed by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and communications between Jeffs, Oler and Brandon Blackmore.

“In my view, the portions of the Priesthood Records in which Warren Jeffs describes his actions and his communications with Brandon Blackmore and James Oler are readily understandable,” wrote Pearlman in his decision. “The portions of the Priesthood Records the Crown seeks to adduce, when considered at the end of the trial and in the context of all of the evidence, may support an inference that Brandon Blackmore and James Oler acted on Warren Jeffs’ instructions to bring their daughter to the United States to be married.”

Pearlman also said it is apparent that Jeffs knew he was engaging in illegal activity, as noted in a priesthood record kept by the FLDS leader. Warren Jeffs told Brandon Blackmore that the Lord revealed his daughter, whose name is protected by a publication ban, ‘belonged to me’ in February 2004.

“I am praying the Lord to touch his heart to receive the Lord’s will,” stated Warren Jeffs. “This event will hasten the persecutions against me and this people as the apostates in Canada will inform the authorities that this is not in her father’s home, assuming that she is with me.”

In 2008, Warren Jeffs was convicted of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of children in a Texas court and is currently serving a life sentence.

Witness testimony

Esther Palmer wrapped up her evidence after direct examination from Crown counsel and cross-examination from defence counsel.

Her evidence included details on living life under the FLDS doctrine in Bountiful and how leaving the community affected her relationship with family and children.

She testified her husband, Brian Palmer, was sent away from the community three months before she was asked to leave in 2012, and remains in contact with five of her nine children, four of which live in Cranbrook, and one in Creston.

Esther Palmer also testified that life in the community became more strict following the death of FLDS prophet Rulon Jeffs, which touched off a succession struggle between his son, Warren, and Winston Blackmore.

Families were torn apart as the community divided while standing behind their preferred candidate, she said. Intermingling with the rival factions were strictly prohibited.

Palmer, who received post-secondary training as a registered nurse and midwife while a member of the FLDS, left the community in 2012.

She testified she gave three statements to RCMP in 2006, 2008 and 2013, but admitted she lied to police in 2008 when she told them she had not not delivered a baby to a mother 18 years old or younger in over two years.

Rachel Jeffs, the daughter of Warren Jeffs, also testified about her experiences growing up with her father at the helm of the FLDS.

She finished Grade 8 in a strict school that was run by her father before it shut down, describing an incident where listening to pop music got her expelled.

Rachel Jeffs was married in Nevada at 18 years of age as the third wife to Richard Allred in a placement marriage, where the FLDS prophet — her father — determines a husband based on revelations from the Lord.

Rachel Jeffs testified that she understood one of the two girls at the heart of the removal of child from Canada charges was married to Warren Jeffs in 2004 and saw her almost every day when she was living at an FLDS property in Pringle, South Dakota.

The Crown is hoping to wrap up witness testimony on Tuesday with further evidence from former FLDS members.