1/30/09 – To get out of jail, Alamo member [Debra Ondrisek] must pay $1,000

Texarkana Gazette
January 30, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

To get out of jail, Alamo member must pay $1,000

A Tony Alamo Christian Ministries church member who was jailed earlier this month for refusing to answer questions during custody proceedings can now buy her freedom for $1,000, ruled Circuit Judge Joe Griffin Thursday.

The woman was ordered into custody by Griffin after failing to provide responses to queries during hearings that began Jan. 12 regarding photos of ministry children placed on the Internet.

At the woman’s request, Griffin scheduled a hearing Thursday, which was closed to the public and the media.

“She gave answers to the questions posed to her at the last adjudication hearing,” Griffin said. “I don’t particularly feel her answers were credible and I told her so.”

Griffin said the $1,000 fine she must pay before her release is meant to compensate the county for the court’s time and the expense of housing her for nearly two weeks in the jail.

“I think she had time to think of what she was going to tell the court. This was not anything she couldn’t have answered a week ago,” Griffin said. “She gave me no lawful reason for refusing to answer questions that were relevant and being asked at the adjudication hearing,” Griffin said.

One of two other parents who were jailed during the custody proceedings did avail herself of her constitutional right not to incriminate herself when she declined to provide information regarding the whereabouts of her other children, Griffin said.

Three of the woman’s children are in foster care while the other three presumably remain in hiding with their father.

“She didn’t claim not to know where her husband and children are,” Griffin said.

Before invoking her right not to utter words that might implicate her criminally, Griffin allowed the woman and her lawyer to visit with Deputy Prosecutor Carlton Jones during the hearings, he said.

Exactly what information the woman possesses that might be incriminating isn’t known.

She remains in custody.

A father who has one child in state care and two missing also continues to live behind bars.

Griffin found him in contempt when he declined to tell the court where his wife and two missing children can be found.

The parents can purge their contempt if they tell the court where their absent children are.

“I gave them the opportunity every day when we were in trial,” Griffin said. “I kind of put the burden on them to let me know.”

If they decide they are ready to break their silences, the incarcerated followers can make a request for a hearing before Griffin either through an attorney or through jail staff, Griffin said.

But if the missing kids are found while the parents are still behind bars, the issue of purging contempt will become moot and the mum church members will be released.

“It might cost them a little bit,” Griffin said in reference to a financial penalty he has the authority to levy.

Thus far, DHS has removed a total of 36 children. More than 90 kids listed on identical removal orders signed by circuit judges in Miller and Sebastian counties, where Fort Smith is located, remain missing.

Circuit judges in Miller County have already ruled that 30 of the seized children should remain in foster care after finding they were in danger of being physically or sexually abused and that their educational and medical needs had been neglected.

Both Griffin and Circuit Judge Jim Hudson approved plans for family reunification. If they want their children to return to them, the parents must sever residential, economic and employment ties to the controversial church.

If the courts determine at custody review hearings scheduled in the coming months that the parents are unwilling to make those changes, the state could proceed with permanent termination of parental rights.

At least some of the families are appealing Hudson’s and Griffin’s rulings to a higher court.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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