Life in Bountiful under trial microscope

Witnesses testify about growing up in polygamous sect near Creston.

Jane Blackmore said she felt like she’d been ‘sucker-punched’ after being told to marry Winston Blackmore when she was just over eighteen years old.

Blackmore, a former wife of the polygamous leader of Bountiful, testified in Cranbrook Supreme Court during the trial of James Oler, Brandon Blackmore and Emily Blackmore, who are facing alleged unlawful removal of child from Canada charges.

Jane Blackmore spoke on Wednesday and Thursday about her experiences growing up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints church (FLDS), including details on religious teachings, how women and men were expected to live in their everyday lives and submit to the will of the priesthood head — the family father or husband.

Her testimony in front of Justice Paul Pearlman also included details on how the community was divided after the death of former FLDS prophet Rulon Jeffs in 2002 and the ensuing power struggle between his son, Warren Jeffs and Winston Blackmore, who were both vying for the FLDS leadership.

Bountiful was split almost in half as members sided with their preferred candidate, which tore some families apart, said Jane Blackmore.

After Warren Jeffs was proclaimed the prophet, Winston Blackmore was excommunicated by the FDLS, which caused tension in Bountiful as feuding families that supported opposite candidates were barred from communicating with each other.

 

Life in Bountiful

Jane Blackmore was married to Winston Blackmore in a placement marriage in 1975, where the FLDS prophet — Leroy Johnson at the time — was told by God that she was to be married to Winston Blackmore during a religious conference in Alberta.

The next day, the two were married.

Jane Blackmore spoke about growing up in Bountiful with parents who had converted to the FLDS faith. Her father moved to the community in 1959 with Jane, who was an infant at the time, and his first wife, marrying six times over the course of 15 years.

According to FLDS doctrine, plural marriage — polygamy — is how members obtain celestial glory, by having as many children as possible to further the kingdom of the priesthood head as God’s chosen people.

As a child, Jane Blackmore was one of roughly 30 students who attended a private school in Bountiful and graduated Grade 12 through distance education with only one other person in her class.

When she was 13 years old, the FLDS prophet told her in a blessing that she would administer to the sick in the end of days, so she had always had designs on going to nursing school.

However, women were not allowed to go to post-secondary education unless they were married with children and had the consent of their husband.

After her marriage to Winston Blackmore, Jane Blackmore upgraded some courses and completed a three-year registered nursing program at Selkirk College in Castlegar in 1988.

Later, with the approval of her husband, she completed midwifery training in 2000 and delivered babies in Creston and the Bountiful community.

Jane Blackmore left her husband and the FLDS community in 2003 after 27.5 years of marriage, moving into Creston with her young daughter.

She testified that during her time as a midwife in the community, it was fairly common for her to care for 15-year-old pregnant girls.

John Gustafson, the defence lawyer for Brandon Blackmore, took Jane Blackmore through her birth-keeping records under cross-examination on Thursday, noting that in over 302 births, four girls were identified as being 16 years of age.

Another former member of the FLDS community, Esther Palmer, also testified on Thursday about life in the polygamous sect.

Like Jane Blackmore, Palmer grew up in Bountiful and was married as a second wife in 1983. Palmer had always desired to be a nurse, and knew she would be able to go to school until she had married and had children.

After the birth of her children, She pursued nursing school at Selkirk College and later midwifery training delivered through a post-secondary institution in Seattle.

She left the Bountiful community in 2012 and continues to work in the health care field in the region.

 

Legal wrangling

Complicating the trial is the fact that James Oler and Emily Blackmore do not have legal counsel and are self-represented, while Brandon Blackmore has a lawyer.

Crown counsel, led by special prosecutor Peter Wilson, laid out their case on Wednesday, with the expectation of calling eight witnesses, from Bountiful members to police investigators.

However, evidence was vetted before the trial in a voir dire — a process that puts determines the admissibility of the evidence and is under an automatic publication ban.

In most judge-alone trials without a jury, that evidence would simply be rolled over into the main trial, however, all three defendants must give their consent, a routine procedure which James Oler and Emily Blackmore have not agreed to.

If the evidence is not rolled over into the trial, Crown will have to recall the evidence submitted in the voir dire in open court and is likely to extend the trial by two weeks, according to an estimation from Wilson.

Twice, Justice Pearlman has asked James Oler and Emily Blackmore for consent, however, Oler has responded on behalf for them both, saying “we have no position.”

The trial will resume on Monday, Nov. 28, with the Crown hoping to wrap up their case by next Thursday.

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