9/27/08 – Judge Decides State to Retain Custody of Girls

Texarkana Gazette
September 27, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

State to retain custody of girls
Hearings in Alamo case continue Monday

The State of Arkansas will maintain custody of at least two of the six girls removed from the Tony Alamo Ministries compound one week ago, Circuit Judge Jim Hudson decided Friday.

An adjudication hearing to address the girls’ permanent custody is scheduled for Oct. 20.

“There was testimony of abuse and neglect and there was testimony of denial,” Husdon said Friday evening from the first floor of the Miller County courthouse in Texarkana, Ark. Hudson serves both Miller and Lafayette counties.

“It was the duty of the court to determine the credibility of the witnesses,” he said, explaining the ultimate goal of the hearings was to “protect the children.”

Before the first of two probable cause hearings began Friday morning, a man and a woman—parents of one of the girls—walked arm-in-arm into the courthouse. Neither would comment, though they did hand out copies of a Feb. 23, 2008, recording of Alamo’s teachings.

“I haven’t seen my daughter since Saturday,” said another man who also carried a large Ziploc bag of Alamo tapes and CDs. “She’s 14.”

At the end of the day, the man stopped briefly as he descended the stairs to the courthouse’s first floor.

“I have a lot to say but very little time,” he said without giving his name.

As he passed out Alamo CDs, he said, “This just sums it all up.”

The daylong proceedings consisted of testimony from law enforcement, Arkansas Department of Human Services personnel, Court Appointed Special Advocates and the parents who attended the hearings.

“One did, one didn’t,” Hudson said when asked if either of the two girls testified.

Hudson said the parents who appeared in court Friday will be permitted “limited contact” with their daughters.

“They participated fully in the hearings,” Hudson said of the parents who attended. “They were advised of their right to an attorney and their right to be considered for appointed counsel. All declined though one indicated he’d be seeking private counsel.”

In the days leading up to the Oct. 20 adjudication hearings, officials will continue to collect information that will aid the court in determining where the girls should live, whether they will remain in foster care and if the rights of their parents should be terminated, said DHS spokesperson Julie Munsell.

“The department’s burden of proof is considerably higher at the adjudication hearing than it was today,” Hudson said.

The best interests of the children are central to any recommendations the involved agencies will make to Hudson at the Oct. 20 hearings, Munsell said.

“We will be working to make sure that wherever this child will be placed, they’ll be in a safe environment,” Munsell said. “We have identified and notified all of the parents except in one case.”

In the case of the 14-year-old whose father alone appeared at the hearing, there has been communication with the mother, Hudson said.

Hudson said he expected the mother, who resides out of state, would be present at future hearings.

Each of the girls has been appointed an ad litem attorney to advocate for them in court. The identities of the ad litem attorneys were not given.

The Texarkana Court Appointed Special Advocates have assigned volunteers to work with the girls. CASA volunteers do not have caseloads but rather work with only one child at a time.

“Our volunteers act as guardian ad litems for children in foster care,” said CASA’s executive director, Danita Abernathy. “We are the voice of the child and act as the eyes and ears of the court. Our focus is on the child.”

The girls were removed from the compound because they were considered to be in immediate danger, Munsell has said previously.

Allegations of child sexual and physical abuse and that pornography had been produced at the compound compelled the search by the FBI and Arkansas State Police last Saturday. On Thursday, Alamo was arrested in Flagstaff, Ariz., for allegedly transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of sexual activity. He is being brought back to Arkansas to face the federal charges.

The custody of two pairs of sisters will be addressed Monday by Circuit Judge Joe Griffin, who has the option of hearing each case individually or conducting one hearing for each pair of siblings. That means there could be as many as four hearings Monday or as few as two.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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