5/06/09 – TG: Alamo lawyers ask for continuance in sex case

Texarkana Gazette
May 6, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Alamo lawyers ask for continuance in sex case

Lawyers representing Tony Alamo in his sexual abuse case are asking U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes to delay the trial for four months.

The motion argues that the extension is necessary because “… defense counsel needs to complete a multi-state investigation, is in need of further discovery from the government and lead counsel needs to undergo surgery to his left knee.”

Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, is accused of bringing young girls across state lines for sex from March 1994 to October 2005. The 74-year-old is facing a 10-count federal indictment in the Western District of Arkansas.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin May 18 at the federal courthouse in downtown Texarkana.

The motion for a continuance focuses on an alleged lack of investigation by Alamo’s first defense attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock.

“Since little or no defense investigation was conducted for approximately six months, in a genuinely complex, interstate case, defendant has good cause … to continue his trial hearing … New counsel was brought in because no preparation or concrete investigation was being undertaken by prior counsel,” the motion said. “At age 74, defendant Hoffman is facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, if he is not competently represented.”

Hall became A l a m o ’ s defense lawyer on Sept. 28, 2008, and was released from the case in March, stated the motion, which also argues that the new defense team, Danny Davis of California, Don Ervin of Houston and Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana, has barely had time to launch an investigation. Without more time, Alamo’s constitutional right to be represented by effective counsel will be violated, the motion said.

“The investigation was moving along at apace considering we weren’t given investigative funds and were conducting it inhouse,” Hall said.

Hall disagreed with a statement in the motion that suggested the defense was unaware of the identities of the alleged victims—named in the indictment anonymously as juveniles 1 through 5—until the new defense team requested them.

“The amount of correspondence, financial documents and audio recordings recently received by new defense counsel is substantial, so we feel additional time is necessary to adequately evaluate the discovery responses, investigate the allegations and prepare a defense,” Harrelson said Tuesday.

Among the items mentioned in the motion for continuance as having only just been handed over by the government are recordings of jail house phone calls, bank records, property records and photographs, the motion said.

Chris Plumlee, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the government will oppose rescheduling the trial.

The continuance request in the criminal case was among a flurry of documents filed this week in cases connected with Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.

Monday, one document, which is not identified as coming from either the government or from Alamo’s defense, was filed under seal in the criminal case.

Also filed Monday was a notice from the government that women other than those alleged to be Alamo’s victims will testify about having sexual contact with him.

“Specifically, the government seeks to introduce evidence through witness testimony that the defendant had sexual relationships with several different women at the same time and that at least two of these women (in addition to the victims charged in the indictment) were under the age of 18 years old,” the motion signed by U.S. Attorney Clay Fowlkes said. “It is clear that the defendant’s other sexual relationships complete the story of the crimes charged and also explain the relationships of the parties.”

Usually evidence of other crimes is not mentioned in front of a jury before a verdict is reached. If a defendant is found guilty, other bad acts can be disclosed to the jurors during the sentencing phase of the trial.

The government’s motion argues that the evidence they intend to introduce does not constitute a separate and distinct alleged crime, but is intertwined with the allegations for which Alamo is facing trial.

“These sexual relationships are also relevant and indicative of the defendant’s motive to commit this crime in that the defendant’s motive was to add the minor victims to his other relationships in order to have the same type of sexual relationships with them,” the notice said. “The defendant had the opportunity to transport or aid and abet in the transportation of these victims across state lines because of the relationships he had established with them and other women and minor females.”

The defense’s request to delay the trial laments that the identities of the eight new witnesses the government plans to call haven’t been disclosed.

“Defense counsel cannot guess their identity, much less complete any competent investigation about them prior to the scheduled trial date,” the motion for continuance said.

The motion, signed by Davis and Harrelson, said that if Alamo is tried May 18 it will be like an “unarmed prisoner sacrificed to armed gladiators.”

Barnes issued a ruling Monday concerning a motion filed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services in a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the church and two Alamo followers—fathers with children in state custody.

The motion asked that documents containing medical records or confidential information about juveniles be sealed and not available for public review. Phillip Kuhn, the lawyer representing the church and fathers, opposed the motion and accused the government of trying to conduct secret proceedings in a response opposing the DHS motion.

“The court agrees with plaintiffs than an order sealing off the entire record from any individuals not associated with the litigation would be too broad,” Barnes’ order said. “However, the court is mindful of the need to protect the identity of any juveniles …”

Any records that refer to the state custody proceedings will be sealed, Barnes ruled. Medical and health records will be made public only if the appropriate releases are acquired.

Barnes ordered the lawyers to ask the court to review a record if there is any uncertainty as to whether it should be filed publicly or under seal.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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