7/15/09 – TG: Prosecutors: Alamo ‘married’ 8-year-old

Texarkana Gazette
July 15, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Prosecutors: Alamo ‘married’ 8-year-old

Parents who allowed their young daughters to move in with Tony Alamo believed they were giving them a better life, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday afternoon.

“At a time in her life when she should have been thinking about things like the second grade, (Jane Doe No. 1) was exchanging wedding vows with a 66-year-old man,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Fowlkes, of the first of five victims named in a 10-count federal indictment Alamo faces. It accuses him of bringing young girls across state lines for sex.

Jury selection was completed and opening statements began Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Texarkana, Ark.

Fowlkes told the jury of nine men and three women that when Jane Doe No. 1 was 8 years old, Alamo convinced her parents, both long time Alamo devotees, to let her move into his house.

Better food, a swimming pool, movies and the company of other girls led parents to believe life in Alamo’s house would benefit a child, Fowlkes said.

In 2006, at 15, she left Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and moved in with an aunt, Fowlkes said. A few months after that the girl was interviewed by the FBI.

Descriptions from Jane Doe No. 1 of “twisted, dysfunctional and criminal” activities led authorities to uncover, “victim after victim after victim after victim,” Fowlkes said.

But instead, Alamo controlled not only every aspect of the lives of those with whom he exchanged vows and rings, but of their parents as well, Fowlkes said.

In his opening statement, Fowlkes chronicled details of abuse allegedly suffered by each of the five “Jane Does” named in Alamo’s indictment.

The government alleges the girls were taken across state lines while part of the ministry and that the travel enabled Alamo to continue his sexual relationships with them.

But Alamo’s defense team argued Alamo’s travels were for church business and for no other purpose.

“This case is about travel and it’s about intent,” said Don Ervin of Houston, Alamo’s lead defense attorney. “Tony Alamo Christian Ministries is a bona fide religious group.”

Ervin told the jury the ministry began “…finding people who were on the streets, people who were down and out, living under bushes and in alleyways,” and helping them in the 1960s.

“When he crossed that state line he had to have that intent in his mind and he didn’t have it,” Ervin said outside the courthouse. “It’s just that simple.”

During arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner, who is leading the government’s case, objected when Ervin said having sex with the young girls had to be a “dominant” purpose when Alamo traveled and accused Ervin of misstating the law.

Ervin said the Mann Act, the law Alamo is accused of violating, was meant for people who are “…rounding up young girls and taking them across state lines for other people to have sex with them.”

When asked how Tony Alamo Christian Ministries could be considered a legitimate religious organization in light of the group’s past trouble with the Department of Labor and the loss of its tax-exempt status, Ervin defended the ministry.

“It is a bona fide church that does bona fide church business,” Ervin said. “The IRS doesn’t control who’s a bona fide church.”

It took about a day-and-a-half for jury selection. Two women were chosen to serve as alternates.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Candace Taylor queried potential jurors Tuesday morning about the credibility of children versus adults, an individual’s right to privacy versus the government’s duty to uphold the law and the logic behind statutes that protect children.

She also asked the panel if they believed theology played a role in the case.

“Does anybody have any concerns that Mr. Alamo is being targeted because of his religious views?” Taylor asked.

Questions asked by Alamo’s defense team seemed to hint at the intent issue Ervin put forth in his opening statement.

“You’re probably going to hear testimony that makes you mad,” said Florida attorney Phillip Kuhn. “Can you set aside your emotions? Even if you think he’s a bad man, can you acquit him if the government doesn’t prove what’s charged in the indictment?”

Ervin reminded prospective jurors that Alamo is “cloaked in the presumption of innocence” unless the government can prove the case against him.

Alamo’s third attorney, Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana, asked the panel to commit that they would “…wait to make your mind up until you’ve heard both sides.”

As he listened to jury selection, Alamo appeared relaxed, laughing as his lawyers joked with potential jurors. The 74-year-old, whose given name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, has lost about 70 pounds since his arrest last October, Ervin said.

Jurors will begin hearing from the first of the government’s witnesses this morning.

Before testimony begins they will meet at an undisclosed location where they will be driven to the courthouse as a group.

If they convict Alamo, he could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

| Back to Top |
Want to help?

Click the button!

Post A Comment

Please note: All comments are moderated. There is no need to resubmit your comment. Please submit a well thought out post with proper punctuation and spelling, so that it can be reviewed and posted promptly (as space allows).

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.