Cranbrook,, B.C. — Two people linked to the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., could have foreseen that their actions would lead to a girl having sex with the church’s prophet well before her 14th birthday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge said as he convicted the pair .
Justice Paul Pearlman found estranged husband and wife Brandon Blackmore and Gail Blackmore guilty of the charge of taking a girl across the border for a sexual purpose in 2004.
He found James Oler not guilty of the same charge, saying the prosecution didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the man crossed the border with a 15-year-old girl who was later married to another member of the polygamous church. Oler was a one-time leader in Bountiful.
The Blackmores will be sentenced .
Gail Blackmore collapsed forward in her seat as Pearlman read his decision, while her estranged husband sat still and looked ahead.
“It was a thoughtful, thorough and detailed analysis of the issues before the court,” Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel with B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch, said outside court.
“The special prosecutor will be taking the time necessary over the next few weeks to review the decision in detail.”
The trial last year heard about the polygamous beliefs and practices in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The three accused, who are or have been members of the church, are connected to the community of Bountiful in southeastern British Columbia, where the judge was told plural marriage was practised.
The charges against the Blackmores centred on records that show the 13-year-old girl was married to Warren Jeffs, the church prophet now serving a life sentence in Texas. He was 48 years old when he married the girl.
Pearlman said in his ruling that he found Brandon Blackmore “acted on the prophet’s direction” by bringing the 13-year-old across the border and he was satisfied Blackmore would have known the girl would have sexual contact with Jeffs “in short order” before her 14th birthday.
Alternative theories raised by the defence are “not reasonable,” he said.
Pearlman ruled Gail Blackmore was a party to removing the girl from Canada, even though it was Brandon Blackmore who received detailed instructions from Jeffs to bring the girl to the church community on the Arizona-Utah border.
The trial heard that according to church records, Jeffs told Brandon Blackmore the girl “belonged” to him.
The judge said Gail Blackmore would have known about the destination and purpose for the journey, given the hasty departure from Bountiful for a 19-hour drive into the United States. She would have been a “source of comfort and reassurance” to the girl, Pearlman added.
Although there was no indication of when the girl crossed the border from customs records, Pearlman said he can infer she was “in the vehicle and concealed” or that the accused “otherwise arranged” for her to cross the border.
Oler was accused of bringing the 15-year-old girl across the border to marry James Leroy Johnson, who was 24 at the time of the marriage.
The judge said he was left with reasonable doubt about Oler, given there was no evidence indicating he or the girl crossed the border in the days between when he received Jeffs’ instructions and the wedding.
“Here the evidence and lack of evidence give rise to competing inferences.”
Much of the evidence presented at trial came from a U.S. investigation into Jeffs.
Special prosecutor Peter Wilson drew on records found locked away in a Texas ranch during the trial in an effort to prove the girls’ marriages took place within days of the accused receiving instructions from Jeffs.
Wilson also focused much of his case on how sex and marriage were viewed in the church. The court heard from former members who said women were expected to obey their fathers and husbands, have as many children as possible and never turn away their husbands’ sexual advances.
Brandon Blackmore’s lawyer John Gustafson told the judge the prosecution failed to prove his client transported the girl across the border or that he knew beforehand that sexual contact with an older man would result.
Gail Blackmore and Oler did not have a lawyer during the trial, so an impartial adviser was appointed to assist the court and provide balance.
Here is a timeline of polygamy in Canada:
1890: Wilford Woodruff, president of the Mormon church, ends the religion’s long-standing practise of plural marriages, paving the path for Utah to become the 45th American state in 1896. Canada passes legislation outlawing polygamy, with specific language targeting Mormonism.
1947: A religious commune is established in Creston Valley near Lister, B.C., reportedly by three men expelled from a nearby Mormon church for refusing to renounce polygamy.
1985: The settlement in B.C. is named Bountiful — after a locale in the Book of Mormon — when Winston Blackmore becomes its leader. The community is connected to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, led by Jeffs.
1993: Immigration Canada confirms it is aware of U.S. girls arriving into Bountiful from Utah and Arizona but says it hasn’t taken action because of the conflict in legal opinion between the federal and provincial governments.
September 2002: Jeffs excommunicates Blackmore and installs James Oler as the church’s leader. Blackmore splits with the fundamentalist church, bringing nearly half of the 1,000-member community with him to start his own religious faction.
2008: A U.S. investigation brings to light documents seized from the fundamentalist Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, revealing that more than two-dozen girls have been ferried across the border between polygamous communities. The records are used to prosecute Jeffs for sexually assaulting underage girls, and also show that at least three girls from Bountiful — two 12-year-olds and one 13-year-old — were allegedly taken to the U.S. and married to the church leader.
August 2011: Jeffs is sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years, with no eligibility for parole for 35 years, for sexual assault.
November 2011: The B.C. Supreme Court upholds Canada’s polygamy laws in a reference case, ruling that a section of the Criminal Code banning plural marriages is constitutional. The court’s chief justice finds that the harm against women and children outweighs concerns over protecting religious freedom.
January 2015: The B.C. Supreme Court bans the province’s polygamous groups from posing as mainstream Mormonism by calling themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has strongly distanced itself from any polygamous offshoots. The ruling also prohibits the use of the words “Latter-day Saints” and “Mormon” and compels Blackmore to change his group’s name to the Church of Jesus Christ (Original Doctrine) Inc.
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