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British Columbia No evidence to convict woman in B.C. polygamy case, adviser argues

Kids are seen playing outside of one of the two schools in the polygamist community of Bountiful, B.C. on Nov. 23, 2011.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

The fates of three people accused of removing girls from Canada so that they could be married to older men are now in the hands of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Pearlman, who is to deliver his verdict on Feb. 3.

Lawyers wrapped up their submissions Wednesday in a case that delved into the polygamous beliefs and practices in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Brandon Blackmore, Gail Blackmore and James Oler — who are, or have been members of the church — are accused of taking girls across the border for a sexual purpose in 2004.

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The three are connected to the community of Bountiful in southeastern British Columbia, where the trial heard plural marriage was practised.

The charges against the Blackmores, who are separated as husband and wife, centre on a 13-year-old girl who records show was married to Warren Jeffs, the 60-year-old prophet of the sect who is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two girls he claimed were his "spiritual" wives.

Oler, is accused of bringing a 15-year-old girl across the border to marry James Leroy Johnson, who was 24 at the time of the marriage.

Much of the evidence heard in the judge-only trial came about as a result of the 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 on Tuesday that 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.

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Gail Blackmore and Oler have chosen to represent themselves during the trial, so an impartial adviser was appointed to assist the court and provide balance.

As amicus curiae, or friend of the court, Joe Doyle's role was not to act as legal counsel to the pair.

Doyle argued in his closing submissions Wednesday that there was nothing that shows Gail Blackmore aided or abetted in the 13-year-old girl's removal from Canada. Wilson described her as a willing participant in his submissions.

"It cannot be said, ultimately, that Gail Blackmore did anything but passively acquiesce at best," said Doyle.

While there is a record that Brandon Blackmore was instructed by Jeffs to bring the girl to the U.S., there is no such information about Gail Blackmore, he told the court.

"There's not a hint (Jeffs) spoke to Gail Blackmore," Doyle said.

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He highlighted inconsistencies in priesthood records kept by the church and told the judge that while the records are admissible, they are not as reliable as the prosecution contends.

Doyle added there are no customs record that the girl actually crossed the border into Idaho in the same vehicle as the Blackmores in February 2004 and raised doubts that officers at the border would overlook her presence.

He told the judge that there was no evidence that Oler crossed the border either with the 15-year-old girl who is at the centre of the allegation against him.

Doyle contradicted Wilson's assertion that women in Bountiful were powerless against their "priesthood heads" — fathers before marriage, and husbands after.

He used the example of former church member Jane Blackmore, who testified that she followed her husband's directions on how to dress and care for the home, but insisted that she go to school to study nursing and later midwifery so she could follow God's directions conveyed to her by the prophet when she was 13.

"She certainly put her foot down on important matters."

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