CRANBROOK, B.C. — A British Columbia judge who sentenced a former husband and wife to jail for taking a 13-year-old girl to the United States to marry the leader of their religious sect says he wants to “send a clear message” about the removal of children to the others in the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C.
Brandon Blackmore, 71, has been sentenced to a year in jail, while his ex-wife, Gail Blackmore, 60, was handed a term of seven months. Both have been ordered to serve 18 months of probation.
Just before Justice Paul Pearlman of the B.C. Supreme Court finished reading his decision, the young woman at the centre of the case asked to address the court.
“In my view it’s not appropriate at this stage,” Pearlman replied. “I’ve delivered my reasons for sentencing.”
The woman, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, did not give a statement during a sentencing hearing in June.
The Blackmores were found guilty in February of the charge of taking a child under the age of 16 out of Canada for sexual purposes.
“In my view a term of imprisonment is warranted in this case,” Pearlman said.
Their trial heard the girl was taken into the United States in 2004 to marry Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who is now serving a life sentence for assaulting two of his child brides.
Pearlman said the sentences had to be proportionate to the gravity of the case and serve as a deterrent.
It is the first prosecution under the law, the judge said. The maximum sentence for a conviction is five years in prison.
Pearlman said both Blackmores were aware there was a high likelihood that the young woman would have been subjected to sexual touching or sexual interference shortly after her marriage to Jeffs. Gail Blackmore was a “willing participant” but her former husband was most to blame, Pearlman said.
“Mr. Blackmore’s moral culpability is somewhat greater,” he said.
Pearlman said neither Blackmore showed any remorse for taking the girl to the United States to marry a man who was 49 years old at the time.
“Brandon Blackmore and Gail Blackmore both received and adhered to FLDS religious instruction concerning the purpose of plural marriage being the procreation of children; a wife’s duty of obedience to her husband; and the early consummation of marriage,” Pearlman said in his decision.
As the sentence was imposed on Gail Blackmore, one of her daughters sitting in the gallery began sobbing uncontrollably and fled the courtroom.
The Blackmores were both handcuffed and led away by sheriffs at the end of the hearing.
A former bishop of the community of Bountiful, James Oler, was acquitted of the same charge during their trial in connection to a 15-year-old girl. Pearlman ruled that there wasn’t proof Oler crossed the border with the girl, who was later married to a member of the sect.
Special prosecutor Peter Wilson is asking British Columbia’s Court of Appeal to overturn his acquittal or order a new trial.
Oler was convicted last month in a separate trial of practising polygamy. That trial heard he had five wives.
Wilson told the sentencing hearing on June 30 that Brandon Blackmore should serve a jail sentence of 12 to 18 months, while Gail Blackmore should get six to 12 months.
“The special prosecutor in this case urged the court to impose a sentence which would denounce the unlawful conduct of the offenders … and as well act as a general deterrent to other members of the community,” B.C. Prosecution Service spokesman Dan McLaughlin said outside court.
“The sentence is toward the lower end of the range that was submitted by the special prosecutor but it is a range of sentence that the Crown respects.”
On hand for the sentencing was Nancy Mereska, the Alberta-based founder of the lobby group Stop Polygamy in Canada.
“Very satisfied with the sentence … and also the fact that the judge said if he didn’t incarcerate them it would not send the message that’s needed to the Bountiful community and the FLDS that they are breaking the law,” said Mereska. “Watching Brandon Blackmore and (Gail) Blackmore be led out in handcuffs brought tears to my eyes because so many people never thought that this day would come.”