Apr 19, 2017

Daphne Bramham: Polygamy trial hears church records of multiple Blackmore marriages

Vancouver Sun
April 19, 2017

CRANBROOK – The names, dates and locations of marriages performed were read aloud Wednesday from church records during the second day of the polygamy trial of Winston Blackmore and James Oler.

The two former bishops of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are each charged with one count of polygamy. Plural or celestial marriages are held to be a principle tenet of the religion.

The records seized during a 2008 raid on the FLDS ranch in Texas were read aloud by Texas Ranger Nick Hanna, who had arrived at court wearing his force’s trademark white Stetson. Hanna helped RCMP in their investigation of documents that were discovered at the Yearning for Zion ranch.

In court (and hatless), Hanna identified page after page of marriage records with Blackmore listed as the groom. Later, he’s expected to also identify and read in the information from the marriage records naming Oler and four women.

During the morning session, Hanna only got through half of the 24 names of the women listed on Blackmore’s indictment.

Among the records were two marriages that occurred on the same day and records for marriages involving two sisters on the same day.

The records indicated that the marriages were performed in several different locations. Most were in the FLDS stronghold known as Short Creek or the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.

But several took place in Lister, B.C., in the community that’s come to be known as Bountiful. Others took place in Salt Lake City.

Most were described as “for time and all eternity,” while one was listed only “for time.”

In the FLDS, women and girls need to be guided by a priesthood head. As children, it’s their father. As adults, it’s their husband. But if they are widowed, they are married “for time” so that they will have a priesthood head on Earth before they are reunited with the husbands in the “celestial kingdom.”

The reason these records are key to the prosecution’s case is that the Criminal Code definition of polygamy is that the marriages were confirmed in a ceremony or that the conjugal relationships were sanctioned by some authority.

The importance of the records to the FLDS is clear from Hanna’s description of the security at the Yearning for Zion ranch. The ranch was enclosed by a perimeter fence and two sets of gates. There was a guard tower. The temple and the temple annex each had a fence. In the basement of the annex, they found the vault where the records were stored. But to get there, they had to break down solid oak doors. It took a locksmith 24 hours to “defeat the mechanism” on the vault itself and once inside there were locked cupboards as well as another locked, fireproof safe.

In all, the Texas Rangers collected 327 bankers’ boxes of documents and evidence that was used to convict FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs of child sexual assault. One of his victims was a girl from Bountiful.

It’s not clear what, if any, defence Blackmore and his lawyer will offer. Blackmore refused to enter a plea on the trial’s opening day. He stood mute, which by tradition means that a not-guilty plea is recorded on his behalf by the judge.

His lawyer Blair Suffredine later explained that his client doesn’t believe he is guilty. Suffredine refused to say whether he would be making a constitutional argument that Blackmore has a right to freely practice his religion.

Oler is not expected to mount any defence at all. He is unrepresented and has refused to participate in the trial beyond entering a plea of not guilty. In his previous trial in November, Oler was also unrepresented and silent. He was acquitted of a charge of removing a child from Canada for unlawful purposes. But that is under appeal.




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