11/25/08 – Tony Alamo testifies about beatings and his Many Wives during custody Hearings

Texarkana Gazette
November 25, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Church leader testifies in custody hearings

Tony Alamo testified Monday afternoon in custody hearings for two pairs of sisters removed Sept. 20 from his Fouke, Ark., amid allegations of sexual abuse.

Earlier in the day, the parents of 20 children seized Nov. 18 by the Arkansas Department of Human Services learned they will not wake up with their children on Christmas morning this year.

“Only our faith could bring us through this difficult time,” said the father of six whose children were taken out of a Ford Excursion as it headed from Fouke toward Texas one week ago. “Only our faith in God.”

Alamo’s defense attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock said his client was also asked about his faith as well when he reluctantly testified.

Hall said the 74 year old did not want to testify because of fear his words might be used against him at his upcoming criminal trial set for Feb. 2.

“He has his own case to worry about,” Hall said.

If convicted, Alamo is facing between five years and life in prison for each of the 10 criminal counts pending against him in the Western District of Arkansas, Texarkana division.

He originally faced two counts but an additional eight counts were levied against him last week in a superseded indictment.

On Oct. 17, pleaded not guilty to the original two counts.

On Monday, Alamo answered questions about alleged polygamy, the total control he is purported to exert over his followers and religion, Hall said.

“As an observer of this one witness, if this case gets to the Arkansas Supreme Court, what are they going to say about church doctrine having anything to do with this, Hall said of questions Alamo was asked by ad litem attorneys appointed to advocate legally for the girls in court.

“Some of this looked like a violation of the separation of church and state because the law says the courts can’t establish church doctrine.”

Hall said other cases have set precedent in Arkansas regarding courts and churches.

“The judge wouldn’t let the lawyers go into religious doctrine,” Hall said of Circuit Judge Joe Griffin. “Arkansas courts won’t hear disputes over church doctrine.”

Hall said Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, was not impressed with the Biblical knowledge of the lawyers questioning him.

When Alamo was asked if it was true that the children of followers are not allowed to watch television, Hall said Alamo responded by saying: “What’s wrong with that?”

Alamo admits to having been married “spiritually” to more than one woman but denies those marriages existed at the same time.

Once he is no longer married to a woman, she sleeps in a different room and their sexual relationship ends, Hall said.

Alamo continues to support his former wives throughout their lives.

Hall said Alamo denied any children or adults were beaten on ministry property but said youngsters and one adult had been “spanked.”

“Whenever they’d ask questions about ‘church rules’ he’d say they were ‘the Bible’s rules,’” Hall said.

Alamo was subpoenaed to testify by one of the ad litem attorneys representing one of the girls in Griffin’s court.

“I was surprised, not shocked, but surprised as to who subpoenaed him as opposed to him being subpoenaed,” Griffin said.

One of the mothers of the two pairs of sisters appeared in court. The mother is no longer a church member and wants custody of her daughters, Griffin said.

Griffin did not know if the mother of the other pairs of sisters is still loyal to Alamo ministries and added her whereabouts are unknown.

An expert on child sexual abuse also testified, Griffin said.

Griffin adjourned court around 7 p.m. after the first of witnesses called by Marshall Moore, the lawyer representing the fathers of the girls who continue to follow Alamo’s teachings.

Testimony will likely end today followed by a ruling from Griffin.

On Friday, Circuit Judge Jim Hudson ruled two of the six girls taken in September would remain in foster care but that reunification with their families was possible if their parents agreed to sever economic, employment and residential ties with the church.

Griffin said Hudson’s ruling would not affect his decision.

In a courthouse down the street, the parents of 18 of 20 children taken Nov. 18 waived probable cause hearings and they were ordered to remain in foster care by Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson.

“They were very well prepared for a lot of people but not that many appeared,” said Danita Abernathy, Texarkana’s Court Appointed Special Advocate director, of the number of parents who physically attended court.

Lawyers appointed to represent the parents and lawyers appointed to act as ad litem attorneys for groups of siblings trickled in and out of the courthouse.

The second floor, where Johnson held court, was closed to the public and the media.

Lawyers from across the state who contract with the Administrative Office of the Courts to provide ad litem services to children and act as parent counsel in custody cases were made available for court appointments by the Administrative Office of the Courts, said Connie Hickman Tanner of the AOC in a previous interview.

Several of the attorneys already acting as ad litems and parent counsel in the cases of the six girls will now represent siblings that were taken Nov. 18. All of the attorneys who regularly serve as ad litems in Miller County, Glenn Hudspeth, Nelson Shaw and Amy Freedman, are handling cases.

“Everything went smoothly this morning,” said Tom Harness, Miller County’s coordinator of court security. “There were no problems.”

The cases of two of the 20 children were addressed by Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin before he began the third day of testimony concerning the two pairs of sisters.

Because the two children taken this month are siblings of one of the pairs of sisters taken from the residence in September, their cases were assigned to Griffin. This brings the number of children of Alamo Ministries’ followers assigned to Griffin’s court to eight.

Johnson and Griffin granted the parents weekly, hour-long visits with the kids, said a courthouse staff member.

Parents of very young children, some of whom were still breast feeding when DHS took custody of them, will get to see them more frequently. The mother of one of the youngest said she will now see her 14-month-old daughter every other day for an hour.

The visits will be arranged and supervised by Family Matters, a program run by Court Appointed Special Advocates, Abernathy said.

More than 100 children listed on removal orders were not found by DHS after searches of Alamo properties in Fouke, Texarkana and Fort Smith.

Alamo doesn’t know where the children are, Hall said.

If those children are located, CASA will need additional volunteers to act as “the eyes and ears of the court” for them, Abernathy said.

She hopes caring community members will contact the local office.

Johnson and Griffin scheduled final custody hearings in the cases of the recently removed 20 for Jan. 12.

However, one child will appear before Johnson Dec. 17. His 18th birthday is later next month. Once he reaches it, DHS can no longer control where he lives.

Despite knowing his son will be free to return to him before the end of the year, the father said he is still disturbed by what DHS has done.

Other parents have said they will fight to get their children back.

A couple whose four children were taken Nov. 18 admit they wed when she was 16 and he was 23 in the church but denied their marriage is illegal in an interview last week.

Under Arkansas law, 16 and 17-year-old boys and girls must have parental consent to marry, said Miller County Clerk Ann Nicholas. A consent form must be notarized.

“Girls can marry at 15 with a doctor’s certificate of pregnancy and a court order,” Nicholas said.

The state does not permit the marriage of boys under 16, Nicholas said.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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