1 Nov 2010

Tony Alamo cult defenders lose two rulings, win part of another - trial begins Monday

Arkansa Democrat Gazette- Northwest Arkansa Edition July 11, 2009

Alamo defenders lose two rulings, win part of another

by Andy Davis

Prosecutors at evangelist Tony Alamo's trial next week will be able to present evidence that investigators gathered during a Sept. 20 raid on Alamo's compound in Fouke, a judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes also ruled that prosecutors will not have to provide Alamo's defense attorneys with the names of two informants who gave authorities information that led to the search.

During a closed conference in his chambers in Texarkana, Barnes also granted part of a request to bar prosecutors from presenting jurors with information that defense attorneys argued would be inflammatory, but the details of the ruling weren't known Friday.

Alamo's lead attorney, Don Ervin of Houston, declined to comment on Barnes' rulings, saying he expects Barnes to take further action on defense requests Monday.

Ervin spoke with Alamo in jail on Friday, he said, and the evangelist is "strong and ready to go."

"We expect to be vindicated," Ervin said.

Alamo, the 74-year-old leader of a multistate ministry, is charged with transporting five underage girls across state lines for sex from March 1994 through October 2005. His trial next week in Texarkana is expected to last two weeks, including two days for juror selection.

While reporters were not allowed into the conference in Barnes' chambers Friday, minutes of the meeting filed in court indicate that Barnes rejected a request by defense attorneys to throw out evidence seized during the Sept. 20 raid by more than 100 law enforcement officers and child welfare caseworkers and to prevent authorities from telling jurors what they saw. Authorities seized Polaroid cameras, documents and photographs during the raid.

Barnes also rejected the defense attorneys' request to compel prosecutors to reveal the names of two informants who provided authorities with information before the raid, and he said prosecutors will not have to provide defense attorneys with the mental health records of witnesses who will testify against Alamo.

In a court filing this week, defense attorneys also asked Barnes to bar prosecutors from presenting evidence about Alamo's views that the Bible does not prohibit polygamy and teaches that girls are ready to be married when they begin menstruating, saying the information would unfairly prejudice jurors against Alamo.

Defense attorneys also want to suppress evidence that Alamo lived with multiple women he had taken as wives and has had sex with two other underage girls besides those named in the indictment against him. The attorneys asked Barnes to ban any reference to Alamo's conviction on tax evasion charges in 1994, as well as any evidence that he ordered beatings or fasts. They also don't want Alamo's ministry referred to as a "cult" or ministry property referred to as a "compound."

The minutes from the conference say Barnes granted the request in part and denied it in part, but it doesn't elaborate. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Plumlee said Friday he didn't have any further details on Barnes' ruling.

In another Alamo-related matter, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Friday that Douglas Christopher, 56, pleaded no contest to a felony charge in the 1988 beating of an 11-year-old boy at the ministry's compound in Saugus, Calif.

Christopher, who had been sought in connection with the beating for more than a decade, surrendered to California authorities on Jan. 20, less than two months after child welfare authorities seized his six children from his home in Valaparaiso, Ind.

As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Christopher pleaded no contest in Los Angeles County Superior Court to a charge of "being an accessory after the fact" to child abuse and was sentenced to three years of probation, which he can serve in Indiana, district attorney spokesman Sandi Gibbons said.

Court orders issued in Miller and Sebastian counties after the raid on the Alamo compound listed Christopher's children among 128 at the ministry considered at risk of abuse.

Thirty other ministry children also have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care.

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