11/25/08 – Alamo takes stand at hearing regarding 4 state-held girls

November 25, 2008
By Andy Davis

Alamo takes stand at hearing regarding 4 state-held girls

TEXARKANA — Testifying at a hearing on the custody status of four girls taken from his religious compound in Fouke, evangelist Tony Alamo admitted to sharing a house with multiple women, but he contended he was only married to one at a time.

Alamo, the 74-year-old head of a multistate ministry with headquarters in Fouke, spent about an hour on the stand at the Juvenile Courts Center in Texarkana during a hearing Monday to decide whether the four girls should stay in foster care, be placed with relatives or be returned to their parents at the compound. Attorneys asked him about allegations that he has taken multiple wives and that the church administers beatings, but they did not question him about sexual abuse, presumably because they knew that Alamo would have invoked his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer the questions.

The hearing was closed to the public, but Alamo’s attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, described his client’s testimony.

According to Hall, Alamo said he lived at the compound with Sharon Ast Krooph, whom he has taken as his “spiritual wife,” as well as two other women, whom he considers his ex-wives. Alamo considered it his duty to take care of the ex-wives, Hall said.

“It’s his belief that he has to support them for the rest of their lives,” Hall said.

Alamo, who is being held in the jail annex of the Bi-State Justice Center in Texarkana, Texas, was subpoenaed to testify by a court-appointed attorney for one of six girls taken into protective custody during a Sept. 20 raid by state and federal authorities investigating allegations that children at the compound were physically and sexually abused.

Alamo was arrested five days after the raid outside a resort hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz. He faces charges of transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes.

Last week, authorities took an additional 20 children into protective custody during a sweep of Alamo-controlled properties in Fouke, Texarkana and Fort Smith. On Monday, parents of those children waived their right to a hearing on whether the children should stay in foster care pending further court proceedings. A hearing was set for Jan. 14 on whether the children should stay in foster care or return to their parents.

An attorney for one mother, who no longer belongs to the ministry, said her client had been looking for her sons and daughter for eight years.

“She would like to pick them up and take them home right now, but she understands there is a process she has to go through,” said attorney Pamela Fisk of Texarkana, Texas.

The child-welfare cases of the six girls taken in September were assigned to two judges. On Friday, Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson ruled that two of them, ages 14 and 16, can eventually be reunited with their parents if the parents agree to move off church property and establish financial independence.

Alamo was called to testify in a hearing on the custody status of the other four — two pairs of sisters — on the third day of testimony before Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin. According to church members, the sisters in one pair are 10 and 17 years old, and the sisters in the other pair are in their preteens.

Testimony in the hearing continued into Monday evening. It is expected to conclude today.

After testifying, Alamo complained to KSLA-TV, channel 12, in Shreveport that the allegations against his ministry are “exaggerations and a bunch of lies.” “I wish I could be cross-examined by somebody who knows the Bible,” he told a news crew.

On the stand, Alamo was asked about a tract he had written in 1993 noting that several prominent figures in the Bible had multiple wives. The evangelist reiterated his position that the Bible does not condemn polygamy, but he denied having multiple wives, Hall said.

He said Alamo maintains that his church operates according to the teachings of the Bible. While Alamo is not legally married to anyone, he would take a woman as his wife until he felt she had violated the rules of the Bible or mistreated him. Then he would divorce her and take another wife, but the ex-wife would stay in the house.

“He’s essentially doing the right thing and giving them alimony and supporting them completely,” Hall said. The ex-wives slept in separate rooms from Alamo in the sprawling house in Fouke, and Alamo did not have sex with them, Hall said.

Alamo also said that church members gave their children spankings, but he would not consider them beatings, Hall said. He acknowledged that one church member who was given a spanking is in his 50 s, Hall said.

Asked about a “report system” where church members ’ infractions are documented, Alamo said the system covers “all kinds of things, like when a truck needs to have an engine put in it.” He said Alamo also acknowledged that the church restricts what their children can watch on TV, which Hall said makes good sense.

“My wife didn’t let her daughter watch TV when her daughter was growing up, and her daughter is now an OB-GYN,” Hall said.

Meanwhile, court-appointed attorneys for the 20 children taken into custody last week and their parents appeared before Griffin and Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson on Monday and waived their rights to a probable cause hearing over their seizure. The children will remain temporarily in state custody.

Fisk said her client, whom she declined to name, is the mother of two boys, ages 10 and 12, who were taken into custody during the sweep, as well as of the 14-year-old girl taken into custody in the September raid.

She said her client, who is now in her 30 s and lives in the Nashville area, was born into the church but left with her family about eight years ago after clashing with Alamo about the beatings administered in the church and about Alamo’s multiple wives. Just before she left, she had been confined to her house as a punishment for disagreeing with Alamo, Fisk said.

The woman and her husband then separated, and he returned to the church, taking the children with him. Fisk said her client has been looking for the children ever since.

The mother was reunited with her oldest daughter, who is 15, after the daughter left the church this summer, Fisk said. That daughter told her that she had watched a church member beat one of her brothers, Fisk said.

After the September seizure, the woman was reunited with her 14-year-old daughter, which Fisk said was a “pretty emotional meeting.” “If the parents are not in the ministry anymore, the children are told their parents don’t want to see them, they don’t care about them and all that kind of stuff,” Fisk said.

As part of the case plan adopted by Hudson, Fisk said her client will take parenting classes, have a psychiatric evaluation, attend counseling and continue to visit with her children in the hope of winning permanent custody of her daughters. She also hopes to gain custody of her sons, Fisk said.

The children’s father also hopes to win custody of the children. Under the plan approved by Hudson, he can continue to attend services at the church but can no longer live or work there. Ultimately, a judge will decide where the children go.

“Right now, the goal of both parents is reunification, and that’s what everyone will work toward,” Fisk said.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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