A woman convicted of taking a 13-year-old girl across the border for a sexual purpose likely didn’t know the reason for the trip because she was expected to follow orders from her husband in their secluded British Columbia religious community, an appeal court has heard.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge found Emily Blackmore and her estranged husband Brandon Blackmore guilty last year of bringing the girl to the United States to marry polygamous church leader Warren Jeffs in 2004.
But there’s no proof that Emily Blackmore, also known by her middle name Gail, communicated with her husband, the girl or Jeffs about why they were headed to the U.S., her lawyer Greg DelBigio argued at a B.C. Court of Appeal hearing on Wednesday.
Wives are subordinate to their husbands in the Blackmores’ polygamous sect in Bountiful, B.C., and the trial judge was wrong to infer that Brandon Blackmore told his wife about the planned marriage, DelBigio said.
“He’s not required to communicate such things to his spouse. He makes the decisions,” DelBigio said. “There is a subservient role (for wives). It is one to listen and to follow.”
The trial judge made an inference based on his common sense, but common sense doesn’t necessarily apply in the sheltered religious community, DelBigio said.
The panel of three appeal court judges pushed back on the idea that the role of a wife in Bountiful doesn’t also include a responsibility to help and assist their husbands.
But wives do so “without question,” replied DelBigio.
“If the husband said, ‘Pack the bag,’ she would pack the bag,” he said, adding she would not necessarily know why they were travelling.
United States Customs and Border Protection records show Brandon and Emily Blackmore and another adult entered the country in February 2004, according the trial judge’s ruling. It’s unclear how or when the 13-year-old girl crossed the border.
Emily Blackmore was recorded as a witness to the girl’s wedding to Jeffs in March 2004, the ruling says.
Crown lawyer Micah Rankin disputed DelBigio’s portrait of the Blackmores’ marriage. Brandon Blackmore’s son testified at trial that his father taught him men and women are equals in the home, Rankin said.
“Things weren’t quite as hierarchical as they appear to be,” he said.
The trial judge didn’t make a decision based on his common sense, but rather on the evidence, Rankin said. Jeffs called Brandon Blackmore telling him to bring the girl to the U.S., and the couple departed within a couple hours, he said.
“They drop everything. They leave home on a 19-hour journey and they do so in a context where the event is very momentous … from a religious point of view,” Rankin said.
Jeffs is president and prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect that practises polygamy. He is currently serving a life sentence in the U.S. for child sexual abuse.
“It’s like (the girl) is being married to the pope. More than that. This is clearly a very significant event,” Rankin said.
Asked by a judge whether Emily Blackmore was happy to see the girl marry Jeffs, DelBigio said her enthusiasm doesn’t prove she participated in planning the wedding.
The Crown is also challenging the acquittal of James Oler, a former Bountiful leader who was found not guilty of bringing a 15-year-old girl to the U.S. to marry another member of the polygamous church. It is expected to begin arguments in that appeal on Thursday.
Oler, 54, has separately been found guilty of polygamy for marrying five women and he will be sentenced on that conviction next week.
He attended the court hearing Wednesday. He does not have a lawyer, and an impartial adviser was appointed to assist the court and provide balance.