10/21/08 – Alamo’s Defense Team Requests Sealed Documents

Texarkana Gazette
October 21, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Alamo defense requests sealed documents

Tony Alamo’s defense team wants a federal judge to order the U.S. Attorney’s Office to hand over court documents that are currently under seal.

“Defendant moves for immediate disclosure of the search warrant materials (affidavit, search warrant, return, inventory and anything else) in this case while they remain under seal to the public pursuant to the Fourth Amendment …” the motion states.

“The crux of the issue right now is that the defendant is entitled to it before the detention hearing to better prepare for that hearing and not discover something later that requires a second detention hearing.”

John Wesley Hall Jr., Alamo’s lead defense attorney, filed the motion Monday requesting a copy of the documents attached to a federal search warrant issued for the Fouke, Ark., Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound last month.

Hall’s motion also mentions a search warrant issued for the Santa Clarita, Calif., Tony Alamo Ministries compound.

A scheduling order issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant gives the government 10 days from Oct. 17 to provide the defense with requested documents. However, Hall wants the search warrant information before the Wednesday detention hearing.

“Under the warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment, the government clearly cannot keep the affidavit sealed as to the defendant, unless there is some compelling investigative need delaying it,” the motion states.

Bryant’s Oct. 17 order states the government can withhold information from the defense if “it would not be in the best interests of justice to make such a disclosure.”

The affidavits attached to the search warrants should describe the probable cause used by law enforcement to convince a federal judge to give them permission to search.

Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, has been in federal custody since last month. He is accused of transporting a 13-year-old girl across state lines for sex in 2004 and of aiding and abetting her transport across state lines for sex in 2005.

Last Friday, the 74-year-old evangelist pleaded not guilty to the two counts. Each is punishable by 10 years to life in federal prison.

Hall told Bryant he hoped to receive a copy of the search warrant materials before a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning. Hall previously said he will be asking the court to release Alamo while his case proceeds to trial.

The government wants Alamo to remain in jail.

In a press release issued following his arrest Sept. 23 in Flagstaff, Ariz., federal officials described Alamo as a flight risk and threat to the community.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Candace Taylor told Bryant last week that the government opposes the release of the documents Hall seeks.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has until noon today to file a response to Hall’s motion. Bryant told the lawyers last week he would make a ruling by the end of the day.

In addition to the Fourth Amendment claims, Hall’s motion asserts that search warrants and their companion documents are usually filed as public records once they are executed because of the Constitution’s First Amendment.

Hall’s motion also argues that Alamo’s Fifth Amendment due process right to mount a “complete defense” should compel the turning over of the documents as do his Sixth Amendment rights to confront his accusers and have a fair trial.

An e-mail meant for inter-office communication that was accidentally sent from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to a long list of media personnel described child pornography allegations as the basis for the search. There are no such accusations made in Alamo’s indictment.

“Despite the U.S. Attorney’s and Arkansas State Police post-search warrant execution press releases saying nothing about child porn, the public has been repeatedly told that this is a child pornography investigation, but defendant is not yet charged with that,” Hall’s motion said. “The potential prejudice is palpable.”

On Wednesday, Bryant will listen to arguments from both sides of Alamo’s case regarding the issue of pretrial freedom.

The controversial pastor is scheduled for a jury trial Nov. 19 before U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes of the Western District of Arkansas.

Alamo was arrested less than a week after a joint search of the Fouke compound by the FBI and Arkansas State Police.

Six girls, ages 10 to 17, were removed from the compound and placed in foster care after Department of Human Services personnel determined them to be in “immediate danger.”

All of the girls remain in state care.

Hearings to address the girls’ permanent custody status are scheduled before Circuit Judges Jim Hudson and Joe Griffin next month.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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