Judge admits contested documents into child bride trial

Crown prosecutors sought the admission of fundamentalist Mormon records into child removal case

A judge ruled that contested documentary evidence is admissible in the trial of a man connected with a B.C. polygamist community who is charged with removing a child from Canada to marry an American religious fundamentalist.

In Cranbrook Supreme Court, Justice Martha Devlin sided with the Crown’s application to admit two types of records seized at a fundamentalist Mormon compound in Texas a decade ago into the trial of James Marion Oler.

Oler, who is associated with Bountiful, is charged with allegedly removing a child from Canada under a Criminal Code subsection that the removal would facilitate sex crimes.

“I preface my remarks by reminding everyone that I’m only dealing with the admissibility of the documents at this point,” Devlin said, “and not with respect to their ultimate reliability and weight that should be attached or attributed to them at the conclusion of the trial.”

The documents consist of marriage and priesthood records kept by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which listed marriages between church members while other records feature teachings, instructions, and sermons by Warren Jeffs, the FLDS leader and prophet.

READ: Crown argues evidence admissibility in child bride case

It was gathered by U.S. law enforcement when a search warrant was executed on the Yearning for Zion ranch in 2008. Records were kept in secure vaults inside a religious temple and an adjacent temple annex building, according to testimony by Nick Hanna, a Texas Ranger who helped catalogue the evidence.

The priesthood records include audio dictations by Jeffs, who used a handheld voice recorder to record his teachings as well as his activities and instructions to other FLDS members, according to testimony from earlier witnesses associated with the fundamentalist Mormon church.

One priesthood record describes the phone call that Jeffs made to Oler on June 23, 2004, ordering him to bring the child to the United States to be married. Another record contains a list of 18 FLDS weddings, one of which was the child’s marriage to an American man.

Crown lawyer Micah Rankin and Joe Doyle, who was appointed as a friend of the court to ensure a fair trial, earlier sparred over the legitimacy of the records. Rankin argued the records were made in the usual and ordinary course of business as directed by religious doctrine, while Doyle questioned the legitimacy of some of the documentation.

The trial will continue with further testimony over the next two days, with closing arguments expected next week.

This is the second criminal proceeding of the same child removal charge for Oler.

He was acquitted following the first trial in 2017, however, Crown successfully overturned that ruling in the B.C. Court of Appeal, which awarded a new trial last year.



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

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