9 Feb 2009

Crown seeks joint polygamy trial

The Vancouver Sun - February 9, 2009

by Daphne Bramham

Charges of practising polygamy against fundamentalist Mormon leaders from Bountiful have been amended to allow the Crown to try the two men at the same time rather than in separate trials.

Special prosecutor Terry Robertson said Friday that underlying both cases is the constitutionality of the polygamy law. So it makes sense to try the two men together even though the evidence against Winston Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44, is different.

Each is charged with one count of practising polygamy.

Oler's indictment initially listed only two "wives" during the period of Nov. 1, 2004 and Oct. 8, 2008. A third name -- Chantel Quinton -- was added after Robertson reviewed the evidence collected by RCMP.

Blackmore's indictment lists 19 women as having been his "wives" between May 1, 2005 and Dec. 8, 2006.

Trying the two together makes it both cheaper and more efficient for the Crown. Disclosure of evidence is easier because specific information pertaining to one defendant does not have to be excised from the mass of intermingled evidence now stored on two DVDs, the equivalent of 18 bankers' boxes of paper records.

A joint trial would also eliminate the potential for one of the men to have his case put on hold while the other's was appealed.

But whether the two men will agree to stand trial together is a whole other issue. They don't have to and even Robertson believes it is likely that one or both may file a motion asking that their cases be severed.

Oler and Blackmore are on opposite sides of a religious rift that has divided the more than 1,000 people in Bountiful and set brothers against brothers, mothers against children.

Blackmore was the bishop of Bountiful before he left and was subsequently excommunicated in 2002 by the prophet of the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Oler is now the FLDS bishop and was accompanied to his first court appearance by Willie Jessop, the group's chief spokesman.

Blackmore's lawyer, Blair Suffredine, said Friday he was not aware of the amended indictment. But he said his client would likely be "ambivalent" to a joint trial.

However, Suffredine said, "I suspect Mr. Oler has stronger feelings. . . . Mr. Oler's lawyer and I can agree about certain things, but Mr. Oler may not really wish to be in the same courtroom as Mr. Blackmore."

Oler's lawyer, Robert Wickett, did not respond to a phone request for an interview.

The two men make their next court appearance Feb. 18 in provincial court in Creston. However, it will be a brief appearance, since the defence lawyers have yet to receive disclosures from the Crown and will not have had time to prepare.

Robertson expects the case will be adjourned for two weeks, with the next appearance moved to Cranbrook or even Vancouver.

Suffredine said that too was news to him.

"I am not averse to Vancouver, but unfortunately the prosecution has unlimited resources and we don't -- at least not until Mr. Blackmore gets the government to help fund his trial."

Suffredine, the former Liberal MLA for the Nelson-Creston riding, said Robertson has already told him it will take up to a month just to hear the constitutional arguments over whether the guarantee of religious freedom allows for the practice of polygamy.

"It's probably going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend this case and what Mr. Blackmore is saying is, 'How can I afford to do this?'"

Suffredine, who opposed prosecuting men from Bountiful even as a Crown prosecutor and as an MLA, says his client will likely seek legal aid. If that's refused, Blackmore will likely apply to the court to have his defence funded in the same way as the Air India defendants and Willie Pickton in their cases.

This article was found at:


No comments:

Post a Comment