7/23/09 – Alamo trial: Sides sum up their cases; jury starts deliberating today

NWA News
July 23, 2009

In Alamo trial, sides sum up their cases

Saying that evangelist Tony Alamo never denied that he took young girls as brides, sexually abused them and traveled with them across state lines, a prosecutor on Wednesday called on jurors to hold Alamo accountable for the “laws he has broken and the lives of so many that he has destroyed.”

Alamo’s defense attorneys countered that prosecutors failed to prove an essential element of the charges against Alamo – that sex was a “dominant purpose” for Alamo to take the girls across state lines.

“Basically, the evidence over this period of time has been designed to do nothing but vilify his church, slander him and smear him in your eyes to make sure that he won’t receive a fair trial,” one of Alamo’s attorneys, Phillip Kuhn of Lakeland, Fla., said. “That’s the only way the government’s going to win this case.”

The attorneys summed up their arguments Wednesday after six days of testimony in Alamo’s trial on charges that he took five underage girls across state lines for sex from March 1994 through October 2005. Jurors will begin deliberating on the charges today.

Prosecutors say Alamo, the 74-year-old leader of a multistate ministry, exchanged vows with the girls at ages as young as 8, had sex with them and kept them under his strict control along with several other “wives” at his house in Fouke.

While questioning the credibility of Alamo’s accusers, Alamo’s defense team focused their arguments on the purpose of the trips rather than on whether sex occurred.

Testimony in the trial ended Wednesday morning after the mother of one of Alamo’s accusers took the stand to defend the evangelist. When asked who she is living with, she invoked her right not to incriminate herself – one of two witnesses in the case to do so. She was later served with court papers from child-welfare officials seeking to take her other children into protective custody.

While Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner made her closing arguments, Alamo at first muttered “not true” and “that’s a lie.” Later, he nodded off several times, as he has done at other points in the trial. On Wednesday, an investigator with the defense team eventually dropped a pen on the table to wake him up.

The charges accuse Alamo of traveling with the girls or arranging for them to travel on trips to Oklahoma, Tennessee, California and West Virginia. Prosecutors say he had taken each of the girls as a wife and traveled with some of them, along with several other wives, in an Apollo motor home or a 1969 Silver Eagle bus. The bus has a bedroom where Alamo is accused of having sex with one of the wives who was 13 years old during a trip to California in 2004.

Three counts in the indictment refer to trips that two of his accusers, then 9 and 14, made to visit their mothers in Moffett, Okla. The 14-year-old had been sent to her mother’s house to make a phone call to her father and assure him that she was not living with Alamo, even though she had already been taken as a wife, prosecutors say.

Jenner told jurors that Alamo had left the charges “largely undisputed.”

“The defendant has never, never disputed that he had sex with all these young girls,” Jenner said, turning away from a lectern to look directly at Alamo. “He never once, never discredited their testimony.”

In his closing argument, defense attorney Don Ervin said, “It’s our position he did not” have sex with the girls – the only time Ervin or Alamo’s other attorneys directly addressed the question during the trial. But Ervin said jurors should keep their “eye on the ball” and focus on purpose of the trips.

Kuhn, who gave the second part of the defense’s closing argument, said Alamo’s house, where the girls lived, is the “nerve center of an international church” that distributes 100,000 religious pamphlets every month and gets “thousands of inquiries a month” from people wanting Alamo’s input. Some of the girls helped Alamo with office tasks, he said.

“A young teenage girl can answer the phone, they can collect e-mails, they can deliver e-mails, they can probably type,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn accused prosecutors of introducing testimony about Alamo’s multiple wives, business activities and strict control over his followers to “infect” jurors with anger. He also questioned the plausibility of the girls’ accounts and noted that three of the accusers had spent two weeks at the Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center in Albany, Ohio, a facility that specializes in treating cult victims. Prosecutors have noted that the accusers went there after they gave their grand jury testimony.

The mother who took the stand Wednesday was the second member to invoke the Fifth Amendment provision against giving self-incriminating testimony. On Tuesday, Jennifer Kolbeck invoked the amendment after being asked by a prosecutor where she had been traveling recently. Her husband, John, is described as being Alamo’s “enforcer” and is wanted in the beating of a teenage church member.

Like the mother who testified Wednesday, Jennifer Kolbeck also was served with court papers seeking protective custody of the Kolbecks’ children.

Before the mother’s testimony abruptly ended Wednesday, she said her daughter wanted to move into Alamo’s house in Fouke in 1998, when she 14. That contradicted testimony from the daughter, who said last week that she went reluctantly, fearing she would become one of Alamo’s wives. As the mother spoke, the daughter, now 25, watched impassively from the gallery with other accusers.

“She really enjoyed it out there,” the mother testified. Her daughter was “rebellious,” the mother said, and she thought the house would provide a structured environment for her. In July 1998, the mother said, her daughter returned to live with her in Moffett, Okla., but left after the daughter accused her mother of being an “adulteress.”

After initially saying he would take the stand, Alamo heeded the advice of his attorneys and did not testify in his defense. Asked about that decision as he was escorted from the federal courthouse Wednesday, Alamo said, “It wouldn’t do any good. I’m not allowed to use the Bible. It’s against the law, the Bible.”

While at one point Alamo predicted he would be vindicated, he seemed less optimistic Wednesday.

“In this unjust court how are you going to win?” he said. He was then placed in a patrol car that would take him to the Bi-State Detention Center in Texarkana, Texas, where he is being held without bail.

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.