April 9, 2009
BY ANDY DAVIS
Jailed evangelist Tony Alamo has added another attorney to his defense team – and this one has experience defending a religious leader in a high-profile case.
U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes issued an order Monday officially recognizing Don Ervin of Houston as one of Alamo’s attorneys.
Ervin was among the attorneys who represented televangelist Jim Bakker at his 1989 trial on fraud and conspiracy charges in Charlotte, N.C. Bakker initially was sentenced to 45 years in prison, but the sentence was reduced on appeal to eight years.
With Barnes’ order, Ervin joins a defense team that also includes attorney Danny Davis of Beverly Hills, known for the successful defense of McMartin Preschool worker Raymond Buckey against sexual abuse charges in a California trial that ended in 1990, and local counsel Jeffrey Harrelson of Texarkana.
Harrelson said Monday that Alamo chose Ervin and Davis after interviewing several attorneys from inside the Bowie County jail annex of the Bi-State Detention Center in Texarkana, Texas, where Alamo is being held without bail pending his May 18 trial. Davis was officially added to the team last month.
Alamo “and people that assist him had done some research on people that they wanted to interview,” Harrelson said. He said Ervin was chosen because of his “experience and reputation.”
In addition to lawyers for his criminal defense team, Alamo has been looking for an attorney to represent him in a lawsuit filed by two former members who claim they were beaten at Alamo’s direction.
Ervin, who didn’t return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon, is expected to meet with Alamo and Harrelson later this week, Harrelson said.
Bakker, who hosted a television program known as the PTL Club, was accused of bilking followers who bought space at a South Carolina park and retreat. At his 1989 sentencing, U.S. District Judge Robert Potter said Bakker “had no thought whatever about his victims, and those of us who do have a religion are ridiculed as being saps [for] money-grubbing preachers or priests.”
Bakker’s defense team, which also included Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, argued that Potter had improperly injected his religious beliefs into the sentencing hearing, and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Bakker was released from prison in 1994, after serving five years of his sentence.
Alamo, 74, faces charges that he transported five children across state lines for sex over the past 15 years. In the border city, “children are transported between states regularly,” but Alamo denies that a child was ever transported for sexual purposes, Harrelson said.
He said the defense attorneys are continuing to gather evidence and interview witnesses. Asked if they will ask for the trial to be postponed, Harrelson said, “I can’t say that there won’t be a motion filed, but we are proceeding with preparations as if it’s going to go to trial May 18.”