Two people who took an underage girl from a polygamous community in southeastern British Columbia to the United States to marry the much older and now-jailed prophet of their church, Warren Jeffs, have been convicted.
Brandon James Blackmore and his former wife, Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore, who are from the religious community of Bountiful, B.C., were found guilty Friday of unlawfully removing a child under the age of 16 from Canada for a sexual purpose.
A third person, James Oler, who has been described as a leader within Bountiful, was acquitted.
The verdicts capped a trial that provided a rare glimpse inside the religious commune. Bountiful – located south of Creston, B.C., not far from the U.S. border – is connected to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Its residents follow a form of Mormonism that still permits polygamy. Investigations into Bountiful have spanned more than two decades, but Friday's ruling marked the first significant legal victory for police and prosecutors.
The verdicts were handed down in Cranbrook, B.C., about an hour's drive from Bountiful.
Mr. Oler will return to the Cranbrook courthouse in April for another case, this time on a charge of practising polygamy. When he was charged in 2014, he was alleged to have four wives. His co-accused in that case, Winston Blackmore, another community leader, was alleged to have two dozen wives.
The allegations in the case decided Friday stemmed from 2004. The two girls cannot be identified; one was 13 at the time, and the other was 15.
Brandon Blackmore arrived at the courthouse on his own, while Ms. Blackmore and Mr. Oler were accompanied by several women from their community.
Justice Paul Pearlman took the court through a chronology of the case and a review of the evidence. He said the Crown relied largely on circumstantial evidence – namely, records kept by the church that were seized during a U.S. police investigation.
The judge said Mr. Jeffs believed the 13-year-old "belonged" to him and told Mr. Blackmore to bring her to Arizona.
Mr. Jeffs was in his late 40s when he and the girl were married. At the time he was the prophet and president of the FLDS. He is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison after being convicted of sexual assault.
The court heard that women in the church are to have as many children as possible and never refuse their husbands' sexual advances. Justice Pearlman said Mr. Blackmore had to have known or foreseen that the 13-year-old would be married to Mr. Jeffs and that sexual contact would occur.
In convicting Ms. Blackmore, Justice Pearlman said she had assisted her former husband and, as a church member, would also have known or foreseen that sexual contact would occur between the girl and Mr. Jeffs.
In acquitting Mr. Oler, the judge said that while there was some suggestion Mr. Oler had been told by Mr. Jeffs to bring the 15-year-old to Nevada, there was no evidence confirming Mr. Oler's whereabouts when he received the call.
"The absence of any evidence placing Mr. Oler in Bountiful on June 23, 2004, when he received the prophet's direction, the absence of any record of his crossing the border at any time that month and the paucity of evidence concerning [the girl's] location at the relevant time, when considered together, are capable of supporting an alternative, reasonable conclusion that the accused did nothing in Canada for the purpose of removing [the girl] from this country," the judge said.
The girl was married to another church member; Mr. Jeffs performed the ceremony.
After the ruling, Mr. Blackmore declined to comment outside the courtroom.
"I've gotta cut firewood," he said.
Ms. Blackmore and Mr. Oler exited through a side door and did not speak with reporters.
Sentencing in the case is scheduled for April.
Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Crown, told reporters the special prosecutor will take the next few weeks to review the decision.