Not guilty pleas entered for accused in Canada polygamy case

The trial of two Canadian men from a fundamentalist sect that allows men to have multiple wives has opened Tuesday with not guilty pleas being entered on charges of practicing polygamy

Winston Blackmore and James Oler each face one count of polygamy.

Oler is accused of having four wives. He pleaded not guilty. Blackmore remained mute and Justice Sheri Ann Donegan said a not guilty plea would be entered on his behalf.

Blackmore is accused of marrying 24 women over 25 years.

Similar charges against the men were quashed in 2009 in a dispute over the appointment of prosecutors.

FLDS members practice polygamy in arranged marriages, a tradition tied to the early theology of the Mormon church. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints renounced polygamy in 1890, but several fundamentalist groups seceded in order to continue the practice.

Blackmore has long claimed religious persecution and denial of a constitutional right to religious freedom.

Blackmore, long known as "the Bishop of Bountiful," runs an independent sect of about 400 members in the town of Bountiful. He once ran the Canadian arm of the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but was ejected in 2003 by that group's leader, Warren Jeffs.

Oler is the bishop of Bountiful's FLDS community loyal to Jeffs. Even though many of the town's residents are related or have same last name, followers of the two leaders are splintered and are not allowed to talk with each other.

At the start of the trial, Donegan released her reasons for rejecting an application from Blackmore to be tried separately from Oler, saying a substantial overlap in evidence against the two men means it is in the public interest for them to be tried together.



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