10/15/08 – Custody hearings delayed for 2 of 6 girls taken from Alamo compound

Texarkana Gazette
October 15, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Custody hearings delayed for 2 of 6 girls taken from Alamo compound

Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson granted motions Tuesday to delay the custody hearings of two of six girls removed from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound.

The six girls were taken into state custody last month amid allegations of pornography and underage marriages of minor girls to adult men.

The adjudication hearings of two of the girls, whose cases are being heard by Hudson, will now proceed Nov. 17 at the Miller County Courthouse.

Hudson had originally set the hearings for Oct. 20. But under Arkansas’ juvenile code, either side had the right to request an extension of up to 30 days. The motions were filed by Mary Helen Mitchell, an Arkansas Department of Human Services lawyer.

“It’s in the child’s best interest to give both sides adequate time to prepare their cases,” Hudson said. “The rules are meant to allow the parties to bring all of the facts.”

Marshall Moore, a Texarkana attorney representing parents who continue to follow Alamo, objected to the continuances. Moore represented one couple and one father who were present at Tuesday’s proceedings.

A former follower and mother of the girl, for whom only a father appeared, was not in court but did have Texarkana attorney Pam Fisk there to represent her interests, Hudson said.

Fisk did not object to the continuances or to a motion to have the testimony of minor witnesses videotaped.

The minor witnesses will include not only the girls, but children from other states. Hudson granted DHS’ request to have the young witnesses videotaped.

Texarkana attorney Amy Freedman and Camden, Ark., attorney Carla Reyes appeared as ad litem attorneys for the two girls. Neither opposed the DHS motions, Hudson said.

Circuit Judge Joe Griffin has not ruled on identical motions pending in his court. Two pairs of sisters are scheduled for adjudication hearings Oct. 21 though that is likely to change.

Griffin’s office said it is in the process of contacting the parties involved in the cases to determine if the motions can be ruled upon without a hearing.

If Griffin grants motions to videotape child witnesses, the minors will have to answer questions about their experiences with Alamo Ministries only once, rather than at multiple hearings.

The names of the ad litem attorneys representing the four girls in Griffin’s court were not available Tuesday. Moore is expected to represent the parents of any girls who remain devoted to Alamo’s teachings, Hudson said.

The six girls have been in foster care for more than three weeks.

They were removed from the Fouke compound after FBI agents and officers with the Arkansas State Police executed search warrants Sept. 20.

After being interviewed and assessed, the girls were determined to have been in immediate danger, said Julie Munsell, director of communications for DHS, in a previous interview.

Less than a week later, FBI agents arrested Bernie LaZar Hoffman, better known as Tony Alamo, as he was leaving a hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz. Alamo is accused of violating the Mann Act, a federal law preventing the transport of minors across state lines for sex.

Alamo has been widely criticized for espousing anti-Catholic views and publicly promoting polygamy.

Officials with the U.S. Marshals Service have said little about when the controversial evangelist will be brought before a federal judge in Texarkana. Alamo’s trip began more than a week ago. Marshals in the Western District said the trek should take seven to 10 days.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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