11/2/08 – During Alamo Raid, FBI and ASP Acquire Sizable Amount of Potential Evidence

Texarkana Gazette
November 2, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Defense wants a look at affadavit
Document describes alleged evidence used to obtain warrant

When federal agents and the Arkansas State Police searched the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in Fouke, Ark., they didn’t leave empty-handed.

Documents concerning church marriages, photos and folders marked as “draft sermons” and “young girls getting married,” were seized, according to court documents.

Alamo’s lead defense attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr., of Little Rock, filed a motion Friday asking a Miller County Circuit Court to give him access to the probable cause affidavit that went along with a state search warrant for the Fouke complex. The warrant was dated Sept. 20—the day of the first search in Fouke. The compound’s gym was searched a second time Oct. 22. Authorities removed a piece of carpet they planned to test for DNA, Hall said previously.

Hall doesn’t ask that the affidavit be unsealed and subject to public review.

Attached as exhibits to Hall’s “petition by target for access to search warrant materials” are copies of the documents authorities left at the compound following the raid. The documents include the search warrant, a list of items to be seized and a list of items actually taken.

The list of items to be seized concerns child pornography. It essentially asked the court to authorize the taking of any equipment, any papers referring to child porn or sex with minors and any photos or videos of children having sex with adults or with other children.

The state police walked away from the Fouke compound with a sizable amount of potential evidence, including two iPods, a computer Zip disk, handwritten letters and notes, marriage documents, photos, personal correspondence from followers to Alamo and a spiral notebook. They also carried away “documents to include: naming young girls, young girls-how dressing” and documents concerning “school students backsliding,” according to the seized items list.

The FBI’s search yielded two Polaroid cameras and film, testified FBI Agent Randall Harris at Alamo’s detention hearing last month. Former followers who claim to have been married as girls to Alamo described having their pictures taken with a Polaroid, Harris said.

Whether any of the photos seized depict child pornography is not known.

Hall wants the court to hand over a copy of the affidavit that will describe the evidence of alleged wrongdoing the Arkansas State Police used to prove they were entitled to descend unannounced on the compound’s main house and gymnasium in September.

Hall has already been given a copy of the search warrant affidavit prepared by the FBI.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant granted a motion filed by Hall’s partner, Patrick Benca, the day before a detention hearing was conducted for the jailed evangelist.

Alamo remains downtown in the Bi-State Justice Center’s jail annex. Bryant ruled the 74-year-old’s pretrial incarceration was warranted because of the risk of flight and public threat he presents.

Lawyers representing the state and Arkansas Department of Human Services haven’t responded to Hall’s Oct. 31 motion.

No criminal charges have been filed against Alamo at the state level, though custody hearings for six girls removed from the compound by DHS will occur later this month in the Miller County courthouse.

Circuit judges Jim Hudson and Joe Griffin will preside over the hearings, which will determine whether the girls, ages 10 to 17, will be returned to their parents or remain in state care.

In February, U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes will preside over Alamo’s criminal trial. A jury will decide if the controversial church leader is guilty of bringing a minor female across state lines for sex.

If convicted, Alamo faces between five years and life in a federal prison.

Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson was randomly assigned to decide Hall’s motion by Circuit Clerk Mary Pankey’s office Friday. Johnson had already left the courthouse for the day when Hall filed his request for the affidavit.

“The only need the state would have in keeping the affidavit for a search warrant sealed would be if it compromises an ongoing investigation,” Hall’s motion said. “Here, there is no ongoing investigation as far as the search warrant is concerned.”

Hall’s motion argues that the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions give Alamo the right to see the affidavit. It also mentions the Freedom of Information Act and an administrative order of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“Under Arkansas Supreme Court Administrative Order 19, records are presumed open, particularly to one’s own case. This search warrant is for petitioner, so he is a party and he has a right of access to it as a record as to him in the search warrant proceedings,” the motion said.

The only other person charged with a violent crime who has ties to the ministries is 49-year-old John Erwin Kolbeck, Alamo’s alleged enforcer. Authorities in Sebastian County want to prosecute Kolbeck for the alleged beating of a former male follower.

Kolbeck is accused of using a wooden board to beat then 17-year-old Seth Calagna in a church-owned warehouse in Fort Smith, Ark.

Testimony elicited during Alamo’s bond hearing from former follower Spencer Ondirsek, 18, included graphic accounts of beatings he allegedly received from Kolbeck as a young child and a teenager. Ondirsek accused Alamo of ordering and participating in the alleged abusive encounters. Kolbeck remains at large.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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