2 Nov 2010

Witness in cult leader's trial says Alamo forced her to marry him when she was 15

Associated Press - July 15, 2009

Witness: Pastor made her say life fine at compound

By JON GAMBRELL | Associated Press Writer

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) -- A former follower of evangelist Tony Alamo acknowledged at his sex-crimes trial Wednesday that she once wrote a letter saying life was fine inside his compound, but said the minister forced her to do so.

The woman says she was forced to marry Alamo at age 15. Under cross-examination, she said she falsely painted a rosy picture of his church after he saw critical statements from others on the Internet.

The 30-year-old told jurors she left Alamo briefly in 2005 but failed to adjust to life on the outside. She said she left for good in 2006, then stepped forward after state and federal agents raided his Arkansas compound last September.

Alamo is accused of transporting girls across state lines for sex. He has pleaded not guilty.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - A woman who says she was a child bride of evangelist Tony Alamo told jurors Wednesday that the minister had so many partners that he had to schedule when he would have sex with them.

The woman, now 30, said she was a third-generation Alamo follower into adulthood - until the Arkansas-based pastor took an 8-year-old as his latest bride. At one point, the woman said, Alamo told her graphically how he fondled the girl as she held a stuffed animal - and she raised concerns about his actions.

"He told me to shut up and that I shouldn't question what `the Lord told me to do,'" the woman said.

Federal prosecutors accuse Alamo, 74, of transporting five girls across state lines for sex between 1994 and 2005. The woman who testified Wednesday said she traveled to California, Tennessee and West Virginia when she was underage to be available to Alamo.

Defense lawyers said in their opening statement Tuesday that girls crisscrossed the country while working for the ministry. Chores for a "bona fide religious group" were not a federal offense, they said.

On the stand Wednesday, the 30-year-old woman said she was married to Alamo at age 15 after he rejected a request from a boy her same age to marry her. She said Alamo told her family that the Lord had told him to take her as his wife, and that she feared her she and her relatives would be shunned if she did not submit.

"We didn't have anywhere to go," said the woman, whose parents and grandparents were also Alamo followers.

After she agreed, the witness said, Alamo took her hand asked if she would take him as her lawfully wedded husband. He kissed her on the forehead and, three days later, had sex with her for the first time.

The "marriage" took place at Alamo's compound but was not formally registered with the state. The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes.

Prosecutors spent much of Wednesday going through a series of photographs of Alamo with women from his compounds. At one point, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner asked the witness, "Who is the girl on the right wearing the Barbie shirt?"

The witness said it was the 8-year-old that Alamo had taken "as his wife."

Defense lawyers say the government has targeted the ministry for prosecution and Alamo says the trial is part of a Vatican-led conspiracy against him. "This investigation, this prosecution was fueled by prejudice the government and law enforcement have against Tony Alamo's church because of its practices," said Don Ervin, who is leading Alamo's defense team.

Alamo previously served four years in prison on a tax evasion charge after the IRS said he owed $7.9 million. Prosecutors allege that some girls were brought to Alamo for sex while he was awaiting the 1994 trial.

Wednesday's first witness said how often Alamo would schedule sex with his female followers varied on where he was and how many were with him when he was traveling. When Alamo was arrested in Arizona last September to face the sex-crime charges, federal agents said he had several women traveling with him, none of whom were minors.

The witness said some of Alamo's "wives" moved to Colorado to be near him while he was in prison there, then moved to Fouke in southwestern Arkansas, the current home of the minister's compound. Alamo completed his prison at a Texarkana halfway house about 15 miles from Fouke.

If convicted in the current trial, Alamo faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. He is being held without bond until the end of his trial.

The woman on the stand said earlier Wednesday that "Papa Tony" segregated children by gender to prevent "hanky-panky" and controlled everything at the compound. She said children didn't attend public schools and that Alamo approved their classes. She also said congregants couldn't obtain food, clothing or access to a car without Alamo's permission.

The woman grew up in the compound and said that, in fifth grade, Alamo ordered boys and girls into separate classrooms.

"He said he didn't want, as he put it, any hanky-panky between boys and girl," the woman said.

During a bench conference, Alamo grabbed a book of photos from the defense table and looked at the pictures from a distance of about 2 inches. The woman on the stand smiled occasionally while looking around the courtroom. During a glance at Alamo she wiped away a tear.

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