Defence in B.C. polygamy trial argues evidence unreliable in closing arguments

Evidence unreliable in polygamy case: defence

CRANBROOK, B.C. — The defence in a trial of two Mormon fundamentalists charged with polygamy has questioned the reliability of religious records and evidence supporting the indictment during closing arguments in B.C. Supreme Court.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler, who are associated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints community of Bountiful, B.C., were charged three years ago.

Crown attorney Peter Wilson relied heavily on marriage and personal records seized by law enforcement from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, an FLDS church compound in Texas in 2008, during the 12-day trial.

On Thursday, Blackmore’s lawyer Blair Suffredine attacked the credibility of the records while also charging that the Crown hadn’t proved the elements in the indictment.

Suffredine argued that prosecutors needed to prove both a continual form of practising polygamy as well as a form of conjugal union, but marriage records only offer a snapshot of one moment in time.

“There’s no evidence of who they lived with or how they lived,” said Suffredine.

The records are handwritten or typed, documenting “celestial” marriages over a period from 1990 to 2014 and some have a fax header from 2002, meaning they’re not original, said Suffredine.

When they were found inside a secure vault in the FLDS Eldorado compound, they were unorganized and gathered from separate boxes and locations, Suffredine said.

“How can you conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that that is reliable?” he asked.

He suggested the Crown failed to prove that going through a marriage ceremony proves a conjugal union, noting that there was no evidence on how Blackmore lived with his wives, what home life was like, what economic supports were or the attitudes toward childcare.

“There might be lots of evidence out there, you just don’t have any of it,” Suffredine said.

Oler is self-represented, but has the services of Joe Doyle, an amicus curiae, who serves as a friend of the court to ensure a fair trial, although he cannot offer any legal advice.

Doyle made similar submissions as Suffredine, arguing the unreliability of the records and charging that the Crown didn’t prove Oler continuously practised a form of polygamy between 1993 to 2009.

The importance of record-keeping to mainstream Mormonism was explained by two experts in church history and doctrine, who testified that the faith believes what is sealed on Earth is sealed in Heaven.

Doyle pointed to Oler’s own record seized in the Texas raid, noting there were important events missing, such as his elevation to presiding elder in June 2004.

Evidence brought forward throughout the trial included records, testimony from Jane Blackmore, who is the first legal wife of Winston Blackmore, as well as RCMP officers who have been involved in various investigations into Bountiful dating back to 2005.

Suffredine opted not to bring a defence case or witnesses forward.

The Crown will present a rebuttal on Friday.

(Cranbrook Townsman)


Trevor Crawley, Cranbrook Townsman, The Canadian Press

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