News / Vancouver

Priesthood documents on teen marriages can be used in polygamy trial: judge

CRANBROOK, B.C. — Documents admitted into court for three accused from a polygamous community in British Columbia allege the trio took two girls, aged 13 and 15, to the United States to marry elders of their fundamentalist church.

The priesthood records show that Warren Jeffs, the now imprisoned prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, married the 13-year-old girl in 2004.

Brandon Blackmore and Ruth Gail Blackmore are accused in B.C. Supreme Court of transporting the girl into the United States for a sexual purpose.

James Oler faces the same charge in connection to a 15-year-old who the records say was married to James Leroy Johnson in 2004.

Jeffs, now 60 years old, was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two girls he claimed were his so-called spiritual wives.

Justice Paul Pearlman ruled that the priesthood records dictated by Jeffs and found in a secure vault on a church ranch are trustworthy and can be used in the criminal trial of the three people from Bountiful, B.C.

"Priesthood records the Crown seeks to have admitted state that on Feb. 26, 2004, Warren Steed Jeffs, then the prophet and president of the FLDS Church, contacted Brandon Blackmore and informed him that (the 13-year-old girl) 'belonged' to Mr. Jeffs ...," says the written ruling released online Monday.

The Crown is trying to prove that Brandon Blackmore and James Oler acted on Jeffs' instructions to bring the girls to the United States, Pearlman said.

The Crown conceded at trial that the documents were hearsay evidence, which are usually inadmissible, but that common-law business records are an exception, and the founders of the church were meticulous record keepers.

Pearlman noted that religious doctrine was essential for accurate record keeping and the court heard evidence that keeping a proper account of events is part of the church's ideology because "what is not recorded on earth shall not be recorded in heaven."

The court heard that the priesthood records were detailed dictations from Jeffs to his scribes and were far more than just an account of weddings, covenants and blessings received.

"These records contain Warren Jeffs' personal accounts of his efforts to evade the American authorities and his understanding that marriage to a 13-year-old girl was likely to attract the attention of the Canadian and American authorities," Pearlman says in the decision.

The lawyer for Brandon Blackmore, John Gustafson, argued that the records were prejudicial because Jeffs mixes his own activities with the business of the church, and that was compounded because Jeffs hasn't been called to testify at the trial for the three accused.

The trial heard that Jeffs refused to speak with the RCMP, not even confirming his name when investigating officers tried to interview him in a U.S. prison.

"In short, Warren Jeffs demonstrated his determination to reveal nothing that might assist the Crown in prosecution of these charges," Pearlman says.

The judge said Jeffs had no motive to fabricate the statements about instructing both Oler and Brandon Blackmore to remove the girls from Canada and bring them to him.

"It is apparent from the priesthood records that Mr. Jeffs was aware that he was engaging in illegal activity."

While the judge didn't allow all the priesthood records into evidence, he did rule several sections on Jeffs' communications with Brandon Blackmore and James Older were admissible.

The judge-only trial is expected to wrap up next month.

 

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