A former wife of polygamous leader Winston Blackmore took the stand in the first day of a trial for three members of Bountiful facing charges for the alleged unlawful removal a child from Canada.
Jane Blackmore, who left the community in 2003, gave testimony in Cranbrook Supreme Court in front of Justice Paul Pearlman about her experiences growing up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) community.
Special prosecutor Peter Wilson also delivered his opening statement and laid out his case against Brandon Blackmore, James Oler and Emily Blackmore, who are facing charges relating to the alleged unlawful removal of two children under 16 across the U.S. border in 2004.
Wilson is expected to call a list of potentially eight witnesses to testify, including Bountiful midwives and police investigators.
In addition to the eight witnesses, Crown and defence lawyers are grappling with rolling evidence revealed in a voir dire — a process that determines the admissibility of evidence — into the main trial.
Evidence brought forward in the voir dire process is under publication ban, however, if it was rolled over into the main trial, it becomes a part of the public record.
Complicating the matter is that Oler and Emily Blackmore are self-represented without legal counsel, while Brandon Blackmore does have a lawyer. However, an amicus — a court-appointed representative who protects the integrity of the proceedings, but cannot offer legal advice — is available to Oler and Emily Blackmore.
All three defendants must give their consent to allowing the voir dire evidence to roll over into the trial.
Jane Blackmore’s evidence centred on what she was taught in the FLDS culture and doctrine while growing up in the Bountiful community, including how women were expected to be obedient to their fathers and husbands, who were considered priesthood-heads and spiritual gatekeepers to God.
She married Winston Blackmore at just over 18 years of age in a placement marriage — a process where the FLDS prophet asks God who young women should marry and reports a candidate back to the woman’s father.
She remained married for 27.5 years, training to be a registered nurse at Selkirk College in Castlegar and later a midwife, until leaving the Bountiful community in 2003 and moving into Creston.
Her testimony also revealed the community ties to other FLDS communities in the U.S., specifically Colorado City in Arizona, and the divide that formed in Bountiful after the death of Rulon Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS, in 2002.
Rulon’s death touched off a dispute as various Bountiful members chose between two different factions that included his son Warren — the current FLDS prophet — and Winston Blackmore, who was vying for the role.
In terms of relevancy to the trial, Wilson admitted to Judge Pearlman that it is a tough case to prosecute as the indictment deals with unusual and rarely pursued charges, with no area of jurisprudence that has similar cases.
Wilson said Jane Blackmore’s testimony will help inform Judge Pearlman on FLDS culture and doctrine and how it relates to the alleged charges facing Brandon Blackmore, Emily Blackmore and James Oler.
Ester Palmer, another midwife, is also expected to take the stand on Thursday.