9/30/08 – Hearings slated for 4 girls of Alamo church

Texarkana Gazette
September 29, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Hearings slated for 4 girls of Alamo church

Four of the six girls taken into state custody last week after a search of the Tony Alamo Ministries compound in Fouke, Ark., are scheduled for probable cause hearings today in a Miller County Circuit Court.

Hearings conducted Friday for two of the girls ended with Circuit Judge Jim Hudson ordering that they remain in state care.

Circuit Judge Joe Griffin will preside over Monday’s hearings. Circuit judges in the 8th Judicial District South serve both Miller and Lafayette counties.

Tony Alamo, whose real name is Bernie Lazar Hoffman, was arrested in Flagstaff, Ariz., the same day Hudson decided to continue foster care for the two girls.

“The Arkansas juvenile code was written to protect children above all. That’s why DHS (Department of Human Services) has the duty and the power to take children on their own for 72 hours and that’s why the court may authorize removal only on the department’s sworn statements for another period of days,” Hudson said in an interview with the Gazette last week.

“Second only to protecting children, along with that terrible responsibility, is the right of parents or guardians to be heard quickly in case there is a mistake or lack of evidence.”

Hudson said the court must answer some key questions before making a decision regarding custody.

“There are two things: first, is there sufficient evidence of abuse or neglect. If the answer to that is yes: is the risk of harm so imminent and so great that they cannot be returned home before a trial within 30 days,” Hudson said.

Adjudication hearings to address the permanent custodial status of the two girls’ cases heard Friday will be held Oct. 20 before Hudson.

Only those directly involved in the hearings are allowed access to the second floor of the Miller County Courthouse where the hearings are being conducted. Security personnel constructed a tunnel-like structure Thursday to shield the girls from public view as they entered the courthouse through a basement entrance.

Court documents in the case have been sealed and are not available for public review.

Numerous members of Arkansas State Police, Miller County Sheriff’s Office and Miller County court security staff were on hand to insure the protection of the girls’ privacy.

The six girls, ranging in age from 10 to 17, have now been in foster care for more than a week.

The surprise search conducted Sept. 20 in Fouke was coordinated by the FBI and Arkansas State Police shortly before 6 p.m. Authorities said the search was prompted by allegations that child pornography had been produced on the compound, that children were being sexually and physically abused and that federal violations of a law prohibiting the transport of minors across state lines for criminal purposes had occurred.

At about 1:30 a.m. the following day an Alamo compound in the Saugus community of Santa Clarita, Calif. was also raided.

No children were found living on the California compound and thus none were taken, officials said.

The 74-year-old Alamo was arrested in Flagstaff around 2:45 p.m. Friday as he left a hotel. Alamo reportedly told a Santa Clarita Signal reporter he had been stranded for several days, waiting for a car part.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant of the Western District of Arkansas signed a warrant for Alamo’s arrest sometime last week. Alamo is accused of violating the Mann Act, a fedral law that makes it a crime to take minors across state lines for illicit purposes such as sexual activity. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Alamo had apparently been stranded as he traveled toward Santa Clarita, Calif., according to the Signal. Alamo spoke with a reporter there just hours before his arrest Friday and said he wasn’t on the run.

Alamo waived hearings in Arizona and was ordered removed to the Western District of Arkansas for prosecution by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Aspey in Arizona. Alamo was ordered detained as a danger to the community and because he could be a flight risk, according to a joint press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI Friday.

“Details as to when and how he will return will not be given out to the media per the Department of Justice’s security and media policy,” the press release said.

No hearings have yet been scheduled for Alamo in the Texarkana division of the Western District of Arkansas.

Officials are also keeping quiet about where Alamo will be held upon his return to the area.

Once in Arkansas, several things could happen in court.

Alamo waived an identity hearing in Arizona. If he had requested one, officials would have had to prove they had arrested the right person. Because he admitted who he was in Arizona, he will not be able to request such a hearing in Arkansas.

A federal grand jury is slated to meet Tuesday and Wednesday in the Western District of Arkansas.

If authorities haven’t yet acquired an indictment from a federal grand jury, Alamo can request a preliminary hearing. At a preliminary hearing the probable cause law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office believe warranted his arrest must be outlined for the court.

If Alamo has already been indicted a preliminary hearing won’t be an option because a grand jury would already have determined enough probable cause exists to charge him.

Alamo can still request a detention hearing if he wants a judge to consider releasing him while his case moves through the judicial process.

Bryant and U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes are the judges that typically hear cases in the federal courtroom located on the Arkansas side of the third floor of Texarkana’s downtown post office.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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