Trial shines light on secretive FLDS community

A summary of the case against three Bountiful members facing alleged child trafficking charges.

The trial for a trio of Bountiful members facing alleged child trafficking charges has been adjourned until closing arguments begin in Cranbrook Supreme Court on Monday.

The Crown’s case in front of Justice Paul Pearlman concluded on Tuesday, with the accused choosing not to mount a defence.

James Oler, Brandon Blackmore and Emily Blackmore are charged with alleged removal of child from Canada, under a criminal code subsection that their removal would facilitate sexual interference or invitation to sexual touching.

At the heart of the trial are two children who were removed from the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint (FLDS) community of Bountiful, one hour west of Cranbrook near Creston, and married to men in the United States.

The marriages of the girls, who were 13- and 15-years-old at the time, occurred in 2004. Their ages are confirmed by birth certificates — their identities are protected by a publication ban.

According to priesthood records seized by police during a raid on an FLDS compound in Texas, the 13-year-old girl was married to Warren Jeffs, the leader and prophet of the FLDS,  on March 1, 2004, as one of seven marriages conducted that day. The record lists Brandon Blackmore as a witness.

The second child, 15, was married to James Leroy Johnson on June 25, 2004, in one of 18 weddings that day, with the record listing James Oler as one of the witnesses.

In his opening statement, Crown counsel Peter Wilson, a special prosecutor appointed by the B.C. government, admitted the case will be challenging for the judge to consider, given that the indictment deals with unusual and rarely pursued charges with ‘no area in jurisprudence that has similar cases.’

The Warren Jeffs connection

Witness testimony from former FLDS members throughout the trial has shed light on what life was like — especially for women — while growing up in Bountiful.

From a family structure point of view, children and wives are instructed to obey the priesthood head — the paternal figure of the family. The men are taught to unflinchingly follow the instructions of the prophet, the FLDS leader, who they believe receive divine revelations from the Lord.

Women are instructed to dress conservatively, while wearing their hair in a manner approved by the priesthood head, all while living a creed to ‘keep sweet’ and be happy, without giving rise to anger or emotional outbursts.

Witnesses also testified that the FLDS doctrine of plural marriage — polygamy — is necessary to achieve the highest glory in Heaven and that the role of married women is to bear children, which are inhabited by celestial spirits at conception.

Warren Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS, is currently serving a life prison sentence delivered in a Texas courtroom following his conviction on two counts of sexual assault of a child.

He was previously convicted of similar charges and sentenced to 10 years to life in Utah; however, that conviction was overturned in 2010.

Jeffs took over leadership of the FLDS in 2002, following the death of his father, Rulon, who had previously headed up the fundamentalist organization.

That had a direct impact on life in Bountiful.

After Rulon died, a power struggle emerged between Warren Jeffs and Winston Blackmore, who were both vying for the FLDS leadership.

Witnesses testified that families were torn apart as the community divided to stand behind their preferred candidate.

Warren Jeffs eventually took over the FLDS leadership and promptly excommunicated Winston Blackmore, installing James Oler as bishop of the Bountiful community.

To this day, Bountiful remains divided, with rival factions urged not to communicate with each other.