1/8/09 – Judge orders couple to rein in video

The Houston Chronicle
January 8, 2009
By CHUCK BARTELS Associated Press Writer

Judge orders couple to rein in video

TEXARKANA, Ark. — Two followers of jailed evangelist Tony Alamo must try to get back a video of their daughter’s interview with a state child welfare official, even though the footage is on the Internet and a copy was mailed to the White House, a judge ruled Thursday.

Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson’s order comes hours after a federal judge sentenced a man who once identified himself as an associate pastor at Alamo’s Fouke church to house arrest after pleading guilty to trafficking in counterfeit compact discs. Meanwhile, another judge delayed Alamo’s upcoming trial on charges he took young girls across state lines for sex.

Hudson ordered the man and woman, who are married, to contact a man who posted the video online, Tom Friess, and try to recover the copy they sent to President George W. Bush. They also must supply the court with documents that illustrate their efforts.

The Associated Press is not naming the parents in order to protect the privacy of their children.

The interview was conducted less than 24 hours after two of the couple’s children were seized by Arkansas Department of Human Services workers following a raid on the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in Fouke. The children were among six juveniles seized in the Sept. 20 raid. Since then, a total of 36 juveniles linked to Alamo’s organization have been taken by the state.

At the start of the hearing, DHS attorney Misty Bowen Eubanks expressed concern about five other videos of interviews with seized children that were sent anonymously to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which posted them online with the children’s faces obscured.

The woman took the witness stand so Hudson could question her. The judge pressed the woman as to whether she knew when she gave Friess the video that it would be widely distributed, which she eventually acknowledged. She testified that she had no information about the videos given to the newspaper. The order notes that her husband didn’t know she provided the tape of their daughter, but he is listed as a defendant.

DHS spokeswoman Julie Munsell said other motions were filed at the same time, with Hudson and Circuit Judge Joe Griffin, the other judge handling Alamo-related custody cases, to try to pre-empt any further disclosure of videos that are supposed to be confidential.

Munsell said no action would be taken against the Democrat-Gazette or Google, where the original video appeared.

The couple had been ruled indigent for the first court proceedings, but they will have to hire a lawyer for their appeal of the state keeping custody of the children. The judge explained after the hearing that the parents are each capable of working 40 hours per week, so the state isn’t obligated to pay their lawyers.

Asked before the proceeding what they do for a living, the couple paused. The woman answered, “We’re members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministry. Our jobs are within the ministry. Everything is provided for us.”

“It’s a great place to live, great place to have children,” she said.

After the hearing, the woman said authorities have conducted repeated interviews with the children.

“They’ve been pumping them, trying to get information against our pastor,” the woman said. “It’s all about Tony Alamo.”

Alamo remains in federal custody, awaiting trial on a 10-count indictment that alleges he transported juveniles across state lines for sexual purposes. Numerous witnesses at hearings have said Alamo would take young girls as his wives.

Alamo denies inappropriate contact with juveniles but says he’s an advocate of girls marrying when they reach puberty.

Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes issued an order delaying Alamo’s trial until May 11 over the objection of prosecutors. Alamo’s lawyer, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, asked for the delay to have more time to prepare his defense.

Prosecutors had argued that federal law requires cases involving child witnesses to be expedited.

“The court’s duty is to protect our right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Constitution, particularly where the government is more concerned with speed than justice,” Hall wrote in an e-mail to the AP. “Also, I don’t think that any of the so-called ‘victims’ are still minors.”

Earlier Thursday, a federal judge on the Texas side of the city sentenced a former member of Alamo’s group to 180 days of house arrest and two years’ probation for trafficking in counterfeit compact discs.

Leslie Ray “Buster” White, 58, of Texarkana, Texas, had pleaded guilty to one trafficking count in September. U.S. District Judge David Folsom noted that it was a nonviolent offense and said it would be appropriate to not sentence White to prison.

When authorities raided White’s operation, they seized merchandise and $109,185. Of that money, Folsom ordered White to pay $28,000 restitution to the Recording Industry of America for counterfeiting copyrighted material, and the government kept a separate $28,000 as a forfeiture.

White, who is missing his right arm, wore a gray suit and briefly addressed the court.

“I am very regretful that this has happened,” White said, adding he’s taken measures to avoid getting in trouble again. “I can assure Your Honor that it will not happen again.”

White’s association with Alamo did not come up in the brief hearing. Afterward, White was silent when asked if he was cooperating in the Alamo investigation.

Defense attorney David Botsford said White was “not participating with the church at all.” He said the “specter” of the allegations against Alamo is disturbing. Asked if White is cooperating with prosecutors, Botsford replied, “I’m not going to answer that.”

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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