Two of three members charged with taking their underage children across the U.S. border to be married were found guilty in Cranbrook Supreme Court on Friday.
Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore were found guilty as charged by Justice Paul Pearlman, while James Oler was acquitted.
The court ordered a pre-sentencing report with a hearing scheduled for April 13, 2017, in Cranbrook.
The three were were charged with removing their children from Canada under a criminal code subsection that their removal would facilitate sexual interference or sexual touching.
All are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) in Bountiful, a polygamous community south of Creston.
Special Prosecutor Peter Wilson alleged that Brandon James Blackmore, Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore, and James Oler took their daughters out of Bountiful and married them to FLDS members in the United States in 2004 when both girls were underage.
In his verdict, Justice Pearlman said he found that Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore’s removal of their daughter from Canada would have led to the intended consequence of sexual activity shortly after her marriage to Warren Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS, during a ceremony on March 1, 2004.
Jeffs was arrested by U.S. authorities in 2006 and convicted of two counts of sexual assault of a child. He is currently serving a life sentence in Texas.
Crown relied on evidence such as testimony from former FLDS members of Bountiful as well as a number of priesthood, personal and marriage records seized at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas by U.S. law enforcement in 2008.
According to those records, Jeffs contacted Brandon James Blackmore on Feb. 26, 2004, and told him to come to Short Creek and that “the Lord had revealed that his [daughter] belonged to me and we would discuss that when he brought her down south sometime Friday.”
The next day, U.S. Customs records show Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore crossing the border south of Creston with one of their daughters, but Jeffs’ intended 13-year-old bride was conspicuously absent.
However, at Short Creek, Brandon Seth Blackmore, the son of Brandon James Blackmore — who was also ordered by Jeffs to come to Short Creek to be married — testified he saw his father there, who told him he dropped off his 13-year-old daughter at Jeffs’ house earlier that day.
That evidence, combined with the marriage record and the school records from Bountiful Elementary Secondary School confirming her attendance up to February 2004, proves that Brandon James Blackmore intended to remove his daughter from Canada, Pearlman said.
During the trial, former FLDS members also testified about life in the fundamentalist faith and how women were expected to be obedient to the priesthood head — either the father or husband of the family unit — and that plural marriage was necessary to obtain the highest celestial glory.
According to witness testimony, the faith also emphasizes that sexual intercourse is for procreation, as children who are conceived are vessels for spirits in Heaven.
“I am satisfied the accused knew [the 13-year-old daughter] would have sexual activity with Warren Jeffs shortly after marriage,” Pearlman said.
Pearlman added it is reasonable to infer that Brandon James Blackmore informed Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore about the reason for travelling to Short Creek and the marriage to Jeffs, making her a party to the removal.
James Oler was acquitted on his charge after Pearlman ruled there was no evidence to support Oler was in Canada to remove his daughter from Bountiful to be married on Jeffs’ orders in June 2004.
According to a priesthood record, Jeffs contacted Oler on June 23, 2004, and told him to bring his daughter to the U.S. to be married to James Leroy Johnson.
A former FLDS member, whose name is protected by a publication ban, testified she crossed the border into Idaho with family and stopped at a rest area where they were met with another van containing Oler and his daughter.
During the trial, she said everyone climbed into the van and headed down to Nevada where Oler’s daughter, who was 15-years-old at the time, was married to a 25-year-old man.
Pearlman said he was not satisfied by the Crown’s evidence that Oler had directly removed his daughter from Canada and acquitted the charge. However, despite the acquittal, Pearlman also said Oler would have known the marriage of his daughter to a foreign man 10 years older than her with two wives already would put her in a position of dependency.
Outside Cranbrook Supreme Court, Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel for the Criminal Justice Branch, said the judge gave detailed reasons for his decision.
“As you just heard, the court has convicted two of the three accused on this indictment,” McLaughlin said. “It was a thoughtful, detailed analysis of the issues before the court. The special prosecutor will be taking the time over the next few weeks to review the decision in detail.
“…I’m not in a position to speculate as to whether further charges will be approved at this time. It’s not our practice to provide comment on the charge assessment process while that is underway, if in fact, that is the case.”
The legal troubles for Oler are not over; he will be heading back to Cranbrook Supreme Court in April to face a polygamy charge along with Bountiful leader Winston Blackmore.
A constitutional reference case in 2011 ruled that polygamy is unconstitutional and remains a offence contrary to the Canadian Criminal Code, however, the charge hasn’t been put to the test in the courts.