10/22/08 – Alamo defense granted access to documents

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
October 22, 2008

Alamo defense granted access to documents

Over the objections of prosecutors, a federal judge on Tuesday said Tony Alamo should have immediate access to documents related to the search of Alamo’s religious compound in southwest Arkansas.

The Sept. 20 search in Fouke involved more than 100 federal and state police officers and child protective services caseworkers. It resulted in the removal of six girls, ages 10 to 17, who authorities say were sexually or physically abused and who are now in foster care. Alamo, 74, was arrested in Arizona five days later on charges that he transported a minor across state lines for illegal sexual activity.

Prosecutors filed the search warrant and supporting documents under seal, citing the need to protect an ongoing FBI investigation.

But Alamo’s attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr., said in a court filing that he needed the documents to help him prepare for a hearing today on whether Alamo should be released on bond.

He also complained about an e-mail that the U. S. attorney’s office accidentally sent to news organizations before the raid. The e-mail says Alamo is believed to have produced child pornography at the compound.

Because of the e-mail, “the public has been repeatedly told that this is a child pornography investigation, but the defendant is not yet charged with that,” Hall wrote. “The potential prejudice is palpable.” U. S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant ruled in favor of Hall, ordering prosecutors to turn over the documents by 5 p.m. Tuesday. He said prosecutors could black out the names of any victims or witnesses who should remain confidential.

Hall said the ruling was what he expected.

“I would have been disappointed if they would have ruled against us,” Hall said. “We would have taken it to” U. S. District Court Judge Harry Barnes, who is presiding over the case.

Assistant U. S. attorney Debbie Groom said, “The case will go forward.” She added, “This is not unusual, that we would want to protect the identity of victims and witnesses as long as possible.” While the ruling gives Hall access to the documents, they remain off-limits to the public. Under an earlier ruling from Bryant, they will remain sealed until at least Nov. 24.

In Miller County Circuit Court, Judge Jim Hudson also issued a search warrant for the raid. In his order sealing the warrant and supporting documents, Hudson said investigators had described “possible sexual and physical abuse of three unidentified juveniles and possible criminal acts against other children” at the compound.

Alamo, whose church also has operations in Fort Smith, New Jersey and California, is being held in the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas.

According to Hall, the charges accuse Alamo of having sex with a girl in 2004, during a trip from Arkansas to California, when the girl was 13, and in 2005, during a trip from California to Arkansas, when the girl was 14. The girl no longer lives in the state and was not one of those removed from the compound, Hall said.

At Alamo’s arraignment in federal court in Texarkana last week, Bryant ordered prosecutors to give Hall the search warrant and related documents by Oct. 27.

Hall said he needed the documents earlier, to help him prepare for today’s hearing. The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures gives defendants the right to such records unless there is a compelling reason to withhold them, he argued.

Prosecutors said they were concerned about retaliation against witnesses and that disclosing the information could interfere with an ongoing investigation.

“While the investigation that led to the probable cause to arrest the Defendant and the subsequent indictment against the defendant is complete, there are other ongoing investigations involving other possible co-defendants or defendants in unrelated charges that could be jeopardized by an early disclosure of these materials to the Defendant,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

In his order, Bryant replied that prosecutors have had plenty of time to warn witnesses about the possibility of retaliation.

“There is no readily apparent reason not to disclose the search warrant materials to the Defendant prior to the detention hearing, rather than five (5 ) days later,” he wrote.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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