10/1/08 – Parents waive probable cause hearings

Texarkana Gazette
September 30, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Parents waive probable cause hearings
Four girls will remain in state custody for now

Staff photo by Tanner Spendley A Tony Alamo Christian Ministries follower leaves the Miller County Courthouse Monday in Texarkana, Ark., after a custody hearing. Circuit Judge Joe Griffin ruled that the four girls who were the subject of the hearings will remain in the care of the state.

The parents of two pairs of sisters removed Sept. 20 from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in Fouke, Ark., waived probable cause hearings Monday that mean the girls will remain in state custody at least until further hearings on Oct. 21.

Two parents were present for one set of girls while a father appeared alone for the other pair.

None would comment as they entered and left the Miller County Courthouse. Supporters wearing Alamo Ministries T-shirts slipped literature beneath the windshield wiper blades of parked cars and police cruisers as the hearings proceeded inside.

“God said to go unto the Earth and spread his message,” said a 15-year-old Alamo follower as he walked.

The boy said he believed he was treated better as a resident of the Fort Smith Alamo compound than average people who live life more traditionally.

On the courthouse’s second floor, hearings—closed to the public and the media—moved quickly.

Circuit Judge Joe Griffin, of the 8th Judicial District South, appointed lawyers to represent the parents who appeared Monday. Griffin said he advised the parents of their rights to have lawyers advocate for them in court and took a brief recess to arrange that representation when it was requested.

“They waived probable cause to preserve their rights and present their cases at adjudication hearings next month,” Griffin said. “The young people will stay in state custody.”

Griffin said his future decisions would be guided by the facts presented at the October hearings.

“We do what’s in the best interest and welfare of the kids,” Griffin said. “We have to protect the children both physically and emotionally.”

The allegations leading up to the surprise search of the compound, which resulted in the removal of six girls ages 10 to 17, included physical and sexual abuse, the production of pornography and violations of a federal law preventing the transport of children across state lines for sexual activity.

“Children exposed to abuse and neglect over some time become normalized to it,” said Julie Munsell, Arkansas Department of Human Services spokesman.

Munsell described the girls who were the subject of Monday’s court proceedings as “reserved” and “quiet.”

“Our focus right now is on these children,” Munsell said. “What can we do to make them as comfortable as possible. What can we do to help them heal.”

Members of law enforcement, ad litem attorneys appointed to represent the girls in court, DHS personnel, parents and the girls themselves may testify at the upcoming adjudication hearings. Each child also has a Court Appointed Special Advocate assigned to them.

“They miss the people they’ve lived with all this time,” said Danita Abernathy, executive director of CASA. “But they’re doing fine.”

Two probable cause hearings for two individual girls were held Friday before Circuit Judge Jim Hudson. The parents in those cases represented themselves. Hudson ordered that the girls remain in state custody. Hudson and Griffin serve Miller and Lafayette counties.

At the adjudication hearings, the burden of proof will be much higher, Hudson said previously.

“The worst is when you fear something is going on but you can’t prove it,” Griffin said. “The law requires facts and if you can’t meet that proof, you find for the other side. That’s what makes the system work.”

Griffin said the effect his decisions may have weighs heavily on his mind.

“Separating families is the most difficult decision a judge has to make, as far as I’m concerned,” Griffin said. “Most of us have families. The time we have with our families we cherish and protect—if you’re a normal family.”

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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