10 Dec 2008

Judge: 6 kids in Alamo case must stay in state custody

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
December 9, 2008

by Dave Hughes

FORT SMITH — Six children removed last week from an Indiana home connected with the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries will remain in Arkansas Department of Human Services custody for at least another month.

Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge Mark Hewett made the ruling Monday after a closed hearing.

Department spokesman Julie Munsell said Hewett will hold another hearing on the custody of the children in 30 to 60 days.

Monday’s hearing also was held to give Hewett a chance to determine whether Arkansas acted correctly in taking the children into custody last week, Munsell said.

The children are on a list of more than 120 youths affiliated with Alamo Ministries that authorities are trying to find, Munsell said. The FBI picked up the six last week in Valparaiso, Ind., after agents said they received information that the children were taken from Alamo-controlled homes in Fort Smith.

All six children are siblings. Anthony Lane of Texarkana is the father of three of them — two girls and a boy — and was at Monday’s hearing.

Neither Lane nor his attorney, Joel W. Price of Fort Smith, would comment after the hearing, saying Hewett ordered them not to talk to reporters about the case. Hewett presides over juvenile cases in the 12 th Judicial District, cases normally closed to the public.

Lane told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week that he had been looking for his children since he was kicked out of Alamo’s church 10 years ago.

On Sept. 25, Price filed a petition on Lane’s behalf in circuit court in Fort Smith for paternity, custody and visitation determinations and for an order that Lane’s ex-wife, Lesia Lashawn Heffner, appear in court with their three children.

The petition was filed less than a week after the Sept. 20 raid on Alamo’s compound in Fouke, where Alamo and many of his followers lived.

The file doesn’t show that Heffner ever appeared in court on the petition. A hearing in the case has been scheduled for Feb. 2 in Fort Smith before Circuit Judge Jim Spears.

The petition said Lane and Heffner lived together from 1989 to 1996, during which he fathered the two girls, now 11 and 13.

A year after their breakup, he learned Heffner and the two girls were living in Fort Smith at a boarding house maintained by the Alamo Ministries. After a month of visits, she and the Alamo church invited him to stay, the petition stated.

Lane stayed in a boarding house for male members of the Alamo church until he received a taped message from Alamo, who was in prison at the time, stating that Lane and Heffner had to be married in Alamo’s church before they could live together.

The petition said the marriage was performed in the church but “no legal registration of the ceremony was made.” Lane worked without pay for Alamo Enterprises for about two months before trying to persuade Heffner to leave the church with him.

He wanted his family out of the church because he saw a 13-year-old girl marry a 40-yearold man in Alamo’s church and feared the same could happen to his daughters, the petition stated.

“The defendant [Heffner ] ‘put him on report to Tony,’ and Tony Alamo’s ‘wives’ read the report to Tony and Tony Alamo put the plaintiff [Lane ] out of the church,” the petition stated.

At the time, Heffner was pregnant with their third child, who was born in June 1998, according to the petition.

Fort Smith attorney Roy Gean III responded on Heffner’s behalf in an Oct. 31 motion that the petition should be dismissed because Heffner and the children were residents of Indiana and never were residents of Arkansas.

Price responded 10 days later that a Sebastian County process server discovered that Heffner had been issued an Arkansas driver’s license on July 5, 2007, that listed her address as 5201 Spradling Ave., Apartment 1 C, in Fort Smith.

The process server was unable to locate Heffner at that address or at the Tony Alamo church at 4401 Windsor Drive.

Alamo, 74, was arrested Sept. 25 in Arizona and remains in federal custody. An indictment unsealed last week accused him of transporting five girls across state lines for illegal sexual activity over the past 14 years.

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