11/23/08 – Alamo Won’t be Providing Attorneys for Followers

November 22, 2008

Judge tells parents: Trim Alamo ties, get 2 girls back

TEXARKANA — Two girls taken from Tony Alamo’s religious compound in southwest Arkansas can eventually be reunited with their parents if the parents sever some of their ties with the church, a judge ruled Friday.

The girls, ages 14 and 16, are among six taken from the compound in Fouke during a Sept. 20 raid by more than 100 state police officers, FBI agents and Arkansas Department of Human Services caseworkers investigating allegations of physical and sexual abuse. The girls were placed in foster homes.

During a hearing on the custody status of the two girls, Mary Helen Mitchell, an attorney for Human Services described the compound as a place where girls were at risk of sexual abuse and where seemingly minor rule infractions were punished with beatings.

In the case of the 14-year-old and 16-year-old, the department alleged that one of the girls had been beaten at the compound and the other had witnessed abuse, said Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson, who presided over the hearing. The parents weren’t accused of abuse but of failing to protect and supervise their children.

In his ruling Friday evening, Hudson said the girls can eventually return to their parents if their parents meet certain conditions, such as moving off church property and establishing financial independence from the church. They can continue to attend services, however. A hearing will be held Feb. 14 on the parents’ progress.

After the hearing, parents tearfully hugged their daughters before leaving the Juvenile Court Center without commenting.

“I don’t think the ruling of the court indicated in any way that my clients are bad people,” said attorney Marshall Moore of Texarkana, who represented the parents who are church members.

Alamo, the 74-year-old leader of a multistate ministry with headquarters in Fouke, was arrested in Arizona five days after the September raid on charges of transporting a girl across state lines for sexual purposes. Alamo’s attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr., has said the girl is a former church member who no longer lives in the state.

The girls taken into custody during the raid were found in the sprawling house where authorities have said Alamo lived with several women he took as “wives.” Alamo has denied having multiple wives.

Church members say Alamo’s quarters are on the second floor, and the rest of the house contains a recording studio, offices, classroom space for girls and rooms for visiting church members.

They say women live in the house but sleep in separate quarters.

Hudson allowed a reporter with the Texarkana Gazette to watch testimony during the hearing’s first day, on Monday, on the condition that she not identify the girls.

According to the Gazette, a 14-year-old girl testified that she had lived in the house with Alamo and worked in the office.

She said that while she was in the shower about two years ago, a naked Alamo placed his hand on her mouth and touched her breasts and genitals.

The girl, who left the church in April, also testified that Alamo would deprive her of food for days at a time and that she was beaten by John Kolbeck, whom authorities have described as Alamo’s “enforcer.” An 18-year-old man, who left the church in May, also testified about being beaten by Kolbeck, who is wanted by Fort Smith police on a second-degree battery charge in the beating of a teenaged church member earlier this year.

Moore objected to the reporter being in the hearing. When testimony resumed on Thursday, Hudson said the reporter would no longer be allowed in the courtroom.

During a break in Friday’s proceedings, Hudson described the testimony of some of the witnesses in general terms.

He said Karen Worley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, who observed police interviews with the six girls taken after the raid, spoke about sexual abuse “from an academic standpoint.” Authorities haven’t disclosed what the girls said in the interviews, and it was unclear whether they testified.

Friday’s witnesses also included a church member, testifying for the girls’ parents, who was present during the Sept. 20 raid. On Thursday, Hudson heard from former church members, including videotaped testimony from a woman who left the church with her husband and children and now lives in Virginia.

Meanwhile, Hall indicated that the church won’t be able to provide attorneys for the parents of the 20 children taken into custody during a sweep of Alamo properties Tuesday.

In a letter Hall sent to the state Administrative Office of the Courts on Thursday, he said he had met with the parents and found it “quite obvious that none of them are going to be able to hire lawyers for this case, based on the legal fees expended in a pending case with six children still being heard.” Asked Friday why Alamo wouldn’t be providing attorneys for the parents, Hall said, “Perhaps he perceives that the state’s going to bleed him dry.” Connie Hickman-Tanner, the Administrative Office of the Court’s juvenile courts coordinator, said Friday that her office has arranged to have attorneys available for the parents of the 20 children at an initial hearing on whether the children should remain in foster homes.

Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin could appoint attorneys for the parents if he finds them to be indigent.

The cases involving two of the girls taken in the September raid were assigned to Hudson, and those of the other four girls were assigned to Griffin. The judges will decide whether the girls stay in foster care, are placed with relatives or return to their parents.

A hearing for Hudson’s cases began Monday, then adjourned for two days while Griffin heard the case of the other four girls.

Testimony in Griffin’s case will resume next week. The cases can’t be heard at the same time because they involve some of the same witnesses and attorneys.

In his letter, Hall said, “The lawyers in those cases are literally exhausted from going into the night on one case, not finishing it, and picking up the next morning on another case. The lawyers for the parents and children are being tag-teamed. I don’t know how they can do it.”

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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