The leader of a fundamentalist church that practises polygamy was aware that asking members in southeastern British Columbia to take their daughters across the U.S. border to be married could attract the attention of authorities, but he believed he was acting under instructions from God, according to a B.C. Supreme Court decision.
The ruling was released Friday as part of the ongoing trial of three members of the community of Bountiful, B.C., accused of taking two teenaged girls out of Canada to marry elders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, including leader Warren Jeffs, who is now in prison. A judge ruled that documents from the church could be presented at trial.
Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Blackmore are accused of taking their 13-year-old daughter across the border to be married, while James Oler, a local church leader, is charged with doing the same with his 15-year-old daughter.
Priesthood records show that Mr. Jeffs married the 13-year-old girl in 2004, according to the court judgment. Those records also contain a list of marriages performed by Mr. Jeffs, including an entry for the marriage of Mr. Oler’s 15-year-old daughter to James Leroy Johnson.
The church documents include transcripts of dictations by Mr. Jeffs, which, the court ruling notes, show the church leader was aware of taking part in illegal activities. For instance, a 2004 transcript has Mr. Jeffs recalling a telephone conversation with Mr. Blackmore in which Mr. Jeffs acknowledges that asking him to take his daughter to the United States to be married would “hasten the persecutions against me and this people as the apostates in Canada will inform the authorities.”
In another section of the transcript, Mr. Jeffs says: “The Lord had revealed that Brandon Blackmore’s 13-year-old daughter … belongs to me.”
The Crown will seek to prove that both girls, whose names are protected under a publication ban, were removed from Canada at Mr. Jeffs’ request and that the three accused were witnesses at their marriages to Mr. Jeffs and Mr. Johnson. Mr. Jeffs, now 60, was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls and sentenced to life in prison in 2011.
Mr. Blackmore’s lawyer, John Gustafson, argued that the documents are prejudicial because they are not ordinary business records but rather the personal records of Mr. Jeffs and have not been subject to crosschecking. He also argued that because Mr. Jeffs has not been called upon to testify in the trial, the defence is unable to cross-examine the author of the records.
Justice Paul Pearlman stated in his written decision that copies of the documents are reliable enough to be presented in court. Usually these records would be considered hearsay and therefore inadmissible, but the Crown attorney argued for them to be admitted under the business records exception. This allows records kept in the ordinary course of business to be presented as evidence. The church’s doctrine requires members to keep detailed records of its everyday activities because “what is not recorded on Earth shall not be recorded in heaven.”
Justice Pearlman ruled that Mr. Jeffs would have had no motive to fabricate documents in which he implicates himself in criminal activity. While he did not admit all the priesthood records as evidence, he made an exception to the hearsay rule for documents relating to Mr. Jeffs’ communications with Mr. Blackmore and Mr. Oler.
The trial is one of two criminal cases connected to the community. Mr. Oler and Winston Blackmore, who each lead divided factions within Bountiful, will stand trial on polygamy charges at a later date.
With files from The Canadian PressReport Typo/Error