1/9/09 – In Alamo case, judge OKs plan to pull video

January 9, 2009
By Andy Davis

In Alamo case, judge OKs plan to pull video

TEXARKANA – A judge Thursday approved an agreement requiring the mother of a 16-year-old member of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries to take steps to have a video recording of investigators’ interview with the girl removed from an Internet site.

Also, the Arkansas Department of Human Services is investigating to find out who provided recordings of interviews with five other girls to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, department spokesman Julie Munsell said.

“Unlike the , it’s not clear who distributed this set of videos,” Munsell said. “We don’t really have anyone, at this point, to take any action against.”

The six girls were interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Texarkana, Texas, on Sept. 21, a day after they were removed from the ministry’s compound in Fouke during a raid by federal and state law enforcement officers investigating allegations of physical and sexual abuse. The girls are now in foster care.

Alamo, the ministry’s 74-year-old leader, was arrested in Arizona on Sept. 25. He faces federal charges of transporting five girls across state lines for sexual purposes over the past 15 years.

He had been set for trial Feb. 2, but on Thursday U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes granted a request by Alamo for a continuance. The trial is now scheduled for May 11.

“The Court finds that the ends of justice served by the granting of the continuance outweighs the best interests of the public and Defendant in a speedy trial,” Barnes wrote in an order granting the continuance. “Otherwise, Defendant would be denied the reasonable time necessary for effective preparation, taking into account the exercise of due diligence.”

In the interviews with investigators, the girls, ages 10-17, describe Alamo’s teachings about marriage and the church’s practice of keeping boys and girls separate to prevent “fornication.” Those who were asked denied that they were ever abused.

The video of the 16-year-old was posted on the Google Video Web site late last month by the operator of the Internet radio station FirstAmendmentRadio. com. A link was posted on the Web site of Tom Friess, who hosts a talk show on the station.

On Wednesday, an anonymous source sent the Democrat-Gazette DVDs with recordings of the interviews with the five other girls.

The label on a Federal Express package listed the address of the church in Fouke as the sender. A note explained, “We are distraught citizens who are fighting for justice. The enclosed tells the truth that has been hidden by the government.” The Democrat-Gazette posted excerpts of the recordings, with the girls’ faces obscured, on its Web site.

Speaking with reporters Thursday before the hearing in Miller County Circuit Court, the 16-year-old’s mother, Debra Ondrisek, said she sent the recording of her daughter’s interview to Friess because it shows that the girl wasn’t abused. She also sent a copy of the recording to President Bush.

“The press hasn’t really gotten our story out, and we already know the judges have no intention of giving us back our children,” Ondrisek said.

Asked if she was concerned about violating her daughter’s privacy, she said, “I’m concerned about her right to get out of the situation that she’s in and come home.”

Last week, the Human Services Department filed a motion asking Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson to order the Ondriseks to ask the radio station to take down the video. It cited Arkansas Code 20-78-106, which requires that material gathered in children’s advocacy centers in sexual-abuse investigations be kept confidential.

In an agreement approved by Hudson on Thursday, the Ondriseks agreed to take “immediate and active efforts” to have the video taken down from the Internet.

Debra Ondrisek also agreed to contact Bush and ask him to return the DVD she sent him.

Nicklas Arthur, operator of the radio station Web site, said he will take down the recording of the 16-year-old if he is asked.

“I don’t see how it would make much difference,” Arthur said. “The truth is out there, and I feel the [Department of Human Services’] story is damaged quite a bit.”

The six girls were the first of 36 children placed in foster care during an investigation into the ministry’s practices.

At hearings in November, at least two of the six girls were alleged to have been beaten. The others were deemed to be endangered by the ministry’s practices, which allegedly included beatings for violations of church rules. None of the six girls was alleged to have been sexually abused.

Hudson and Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin ruled that the girls had been abused or were at risk of abuse and will remain in foster care. The girls can eventually be reunited with their parents if their parents agree to move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry.

The Ondriseks, as well as the father of a 14-year-old girl, have filed notices that they will appeal Hudson’s findings. Hudson had granted their request for a court-appointed attorney to represent them in their appeal, but the state Public Defender Commission on Thursday notified the parents that it had determined that they are not entitled to one.

The commission decided that, since the parents worked at the ministry in exchange for room and board and other necessities, they are not indigent, Hudson said.

“It’s a barter system,” he said.

The church hired private attorneys to represent the parents at court hearings in November but chose not to pay for the cost of an appeal, Hudson said.

Griffin, who presided over the cases of the other four girls, has not entered a written order, which is needed before an appeal can be filed.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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