11/22/08 – Judge says parents must sever financial ties with “church”—Alamo subpoenaed to appear at a probable cause hearing, Monday, for the 20 kids

Texarkana Gazette
November 2, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Two girls remain in foster care
Judge says parents must sever ties

Two of six girls taken from Tony Alamo Christian Ministries properties in Fouke, Ark., in September will remain in foster care, but if their parents sever ties with the church, reunification is possible, Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson ruled late Friday.

“For those parents who are still members, there is a requirement to sever financial, residential, economic and employment ties with the ministry,” said Hudson, who made the decision after listening to three days of testimony.

“I instructed them that I am not trying to infringe on their religious practices—only those practices that were neglectful or abusive.”

As the hearings ended, the father of one girl, whose mother has left the church, hugged his 14-year-old daughter as they whispered together.

“I’ll be seeing you, OK,” the father said as they embraced.

Hudson said the father expressed a willingness to “sever ties” when he testified.

The girl’s mother has left the ministry, lives out of state and attended the hearings. She hasn’t had much recent contact with her daughter but wants to be granted custody, Hudson said.

The parents of a 16-year-old hugged their child as well.

“Do you want to come home?” her mother asked.

The girl nodded affirmatively before walking with her arms around her foster mother as she left the courthouse.

“I don’t think the ruling indicated in any way that my clients were bad parents,” said Marshall Moore, the Texarkana lawyer representing the parents of the two girls who still follow Alamo.

“The goal is to get these parents back with their kids,” said David James, the attorney assisting Moore.

In roughly 90 days, Hudson will conduct a review hearing to evaluate what progress has been made on the Department of Human Services case plan Hudson approved Friday evening.

Hudson has granted the parents of the two girls supervised visits with their daughters.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Joe Griffin will resume hearings for two pairs of sisters taken in September. They were among other girls removed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services amid allegations of sexual abuse.

“The Department (of Human Services) established that the polygamy was going on under the same roof where the girls were living,” Hudson said.

Church members have said that although Alamo preaches polygamy “because it is in the Bible,” he does not practice it.

In an order for removal that resulted in the seizure of 20 children by DHS earlier this week, Alamo is named as the father of the child of a woman to whom he has never been legally married. That child, and more than 100 others listed in the order, haven’t been found.

Alamo has been subpoenaed to appear at a probable cause hearing scheduled Monday for the 20 kids, said his lead defense attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr.

All six girls taken in September were residing in the “main house” called the “school and ministry” where Alamo lived. The “sisters in the house” who wore wedding rings were Alamo’s wives, a 14-year-old girl testified earlier in the week.

The girl, who left the church at 13, testified she was showering when a nude Alamo placed a hand over her mouth and began to touch her. When she decided to leave in April, her father warned she would go to hell.

She said she was given $40 and a bus ticket to the state where her mother, a former follower, and an aunt lived.

The girl and an 18-year-old man both described being beaten by Alamo’s alleged enforcer, John Kolbeck. They accused Kolbeck of bloodying their faces before using a three-foot long wooden paddle to deliver as many as 40 blows as they bent over.

“He swung it like a baseball bat,” the man testified.

State and federal warrants have been issued for Kolbeck. In Sebastian County, he is wanted for second-degree battery. Federal authorities have charged him with unlawful flight from prosecution.

One of the girls whose case was assigned to Hudson’s court was alleged to have been physically abused, Hudson said.

Church members have denied knowledge of any beatings or of forced fasts the two witnesses described.

“I think the court ruled the way it should have,” said Carla Reyes, an attorney ad litem for one of the girls.

“I just hate the public didn’t hear the evidence at the request of the the ministry,” said Reyes, who had hoped media accounts of testimony would deter others from joining Alamo’s church.

Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, is being held in the jail annex behind the Bi-State Justice Center in downtown Texarkana. He has been charged with violating a federal law that makes it a crime to ake a minor across state lines for sex.

His trial is scheduled for February.

In the warmth of the living room of the home called the “school and ministry” Wednesday evening, parents of some of the 20 kids taken from sport utility vehicles as they headed toward Texas said unfavorable rulings from the court won’t weaken their resolve.

“We’ll keep fighting,” said the father of four taken children. “I’m not going to give up.”

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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