Lawyers spar over evidence admissibility at child bride trial

Records seized at a religious compound in Texas in 2008 at issue for Bountiful man on trial

A lawyer attacked the credibility of religious documents that prosecutors are hoping to tender as evidence in the trial of a man charged with allegedly removing a child from Canada to marry an American man.

Joe Doyle, who was appointed to serve as the friend of the court to ensure a fair trial, questioned the legitimacy of documentation seized by U.S. law enforcement at a fundamentalist Mormon compound in Texas in 2008.

Those records are being presented as evidence in the trial of James Marion Oler, who is charged with allegedly removing a child from Canada and facilitating a marriage to an American member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in 2004.

Special Prosecutor Peter Wilson, along with colleague Micah Rankin, is seeking to have those documents admitted into the trial, which serve as evidence showing that Oler carried out specific orders as directed by Warren Jeffs, the FLDS president and prophet.

Crown says the documents, which consist of marriage and priesthood records that are considered a key doctrinal element to the mainstream and fundamentalist Mormon faiths, prove that a marriage occurred and that the weight and validity of those records is corroborated by other witnesses who already testified.

However, Doyle argued that the religious significance of some of the marriage records was not valid as some of the documents appeared to be in template form, had fax numbers on them and were not properly filled out.

“All that’s happened here is you’ve had Texas Rangers seize a bunch of things in a vault in 2008 and have brought them into this court, plunked them into a book, and you’re asked to assume that they’re accurate,” Doyle said. “We don’t even know who made them, we don’t know when they were made. We don’t know when they were amended. We don’t know what process went into making them. Were they made at the time or were they made after the fact by somebody taking notes?”

Two Mormon religious experts earlier testified about the significance of meticulous record-keeping to the faith, which is considered a scriptural commandment in the Book of Mormon.

Also under scrutiny are priesthood records, which consist of instructions, teachings and daily activities as dictated by Jeffs into a handheld voice recorder, a practice confirmed by witness testimony.

For example, one priesthood record — an audio recording — includes Jeffs describing the contents of a phone call with Oler, where he ordered him to bring a young teenager to the U.S. to be married.

Oler is being tried in Cranbrook Supreme Court in front of Justice Martha Devlin. He was previously acquitted of the same charge in 2017, however, Crown successfully appealed the decision at the B.C. Court of Appeal, which awarded a new trial.



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

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