8/19/11 – TG: Defense requests new venue for Alamo civil trial

Texarkana Gazette
August 19, 2011
By: Lynn LaRowe

Defense requests new venue for Alamo civil trial

Lawyers defending Tony Alamo Christian Ministries members and businesses in a civil lawsuit claim they can’t get a fair trial in Texarkana because of pretrial publicity.

Several of the defendants in the suit, which seeks damages for seven former female members, filed a joint motion Tuesday asking that the case be moved from the Western District of Arkansas’ Texarkana court to its court in Hot Springs.

The request for a change of venue alleges that potential jurors have been subjected to weekly news reports for several years, which would lead to a finding of “guilt by association” for the ministry-run businesses and high-ranking individuals named as defendants.

Tony Alamo was convicted in July 2009 on all 10 counts listed in a federal indictment accusing him of bringing five girls he wed across state lines for sex. He was sentenced to 175 years in federal prison later that year. In October 2009, a $3 million default judgment was entered against Alamo’s enforcer, John Kolbek, for two men who were abused throughout their childhood in the ministry. In June, a jury awarded the same men judgments against Alamo at $33 million each.

“Due to the sheer size and notoreity of the ongoing litigation in this matter and the media attention given to it, individuals in the community have developed a bias toward the defendants,” the motion states.

A brief supporting the motion notes that the seven counties from which a jury would be selected if the case remains in Texarkana are served by the newspapers and television stations that have consistently covered the legal saga of Alamo and the ministry.

“The seven-county community from which the jurors will be chosen has a population of only 119,086. Of that small number, only 84,963 are over 18 and eligible to serve on a jury,” the brief states. “Based on population alone, it is hard to concieve of finding 12 jurors in the largely rural area of Southwest Arkansas who would not be biased toward the defendants based on alleged connections with Tony Alamo and his widely publicized criminal conviction for the trafficking of young women.”

Attached to the motion are nine affidavits from area residents, presumably potential jurors, which state the defendants cannot get a fair shake in the Texarkana court. The majority of the affidavits are signed by residents of Miller County. Two are signed by residents of Hempstead and Nevada counties.

The venue motion was filed on behalf of defendants Steve Johnson, Jeanne Estates Apartments and Advantage Food Group. Johnson is the registered agent of SJ distributing, a trucking enterprise allegedly run for the benefit of Alamo Ministries. The company is named as a defendant.

Other organizations named as defendants are Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church Inc., Gloryland Christian Church, Armful of Help, Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation, Music Square Church, Action Distributors and Robert Gilmore, doing business as RG & Associates Security. Individual defendants include Sharon Alamo, a wife of Tony Alamo, and Sally Demoulin, a longtime ministry member who testified at Alamo’s criminal trial that she handles the books for the ministry.

The complaint, filed in August 2010, alleges that the defendants knew or should have known that Alamo was sexually and physically abusing the plaintiffs but turned a blind eye to the conduct because of Alamo’s position in the organization as prophet and spiritual leader.
Since the suit was filed, several of the defendants have filed third-party complaints seeking to add the parents of the plaintiffs as defendants. The plaintiffs were raised in the ministry.

The case is scheduled for trial May 1, 2012, in Texarkana before U.S. District Judge Paul K. Holmes. If Holmes grants the venue change, the trial date could be affected by the availability of a courtroom in the Hot Springs division.

In: 2011

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