2/15/12 – TG: Judge denies venue change for defendants in Alamo case

Texarkana Gazette
February 15, 2012
By: Lynn LaRowe – Texarkana Gazette

Judge denies venue change for defendants in Alamo case

A federal judge has denied a request by several defendants to move a civil lawsuit seeking damages for former wives of Tony Alamo.

The defendants argued trying the case in Texarkana wouldn’t be fair because publicity surrounding Alamo has tainted the potential jury pool against anyone associated with the imprisoned evangelist.

But U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey ruled Tuesday the defendants’ request for a change of venue is unwarranted.

Hickey’s ruling states informative news stories featured in the Texarkana Gazette and on a local television station may have created an awareness of Alamo Ministries and the facts surrounding Alamo’s 2009 sex-crimes convictions and sentence of 175 years. But the media coverage does not mean that the high-ranking ministry members and ministry-run businesses named as defendants cannot get a fair trial in Texarkana.

“While members of the community may be aware of Tony Alamo’s legal history through the large amount of media coverage, awareness alone does not necessitate a change of venue. Movants have not alleged that the media coverage here has been particularly inflammatory or accusatory,” Hickey’s opinion states.

Nine affidavits from area residents who state they don’t believe a reasonable jury can be chosen in the Texarkana division of the Western District of Arkansas did not convince Hickey.

“The court is also not persuaded by the nine affidavits submitted … A sampling of only nine individuals is simply not definitive enough to presume prejudice throughout the entire chosen forum,” Hickey wrote.

The suit, filed in 2010 by Texarkana lawyer David Carter, seeks damages for six former Alamo wives and a woman who testified she was being groomed to be a wife when she escaped from Alamo’s house as a teen. Alamo was found guilty by a jury of bringing five women he’d wed as children across state lines for sex. “We are pleased the Court rejected the notion that this case should moved from Texarkana,” Carter said. “We are also confident that the jury selected to hear this case will be fair and base its verdict on the evidence presented in the courtroom.” Hickey’s opinion does leave the door open to moving the trial if during the jury selection process it “… becomes clear at that time that an unbiased jury cannot be seated.”

The case is currently scheduled for trial in May but the parties have filed a joint motion asking Hickey to give both sides more time to prepare. Just last week several of the plaintiffs’ parents filed answers to the complaint. An in-prison deposition of Alamo had to be delayed last year because he was hospitalized with pneumonia.

Hickey has not yet rescheduled the trial.

In: 2012

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