1/30/09 – Alamo-case mom [Debra Ondrisek] freed after week behind bars

January 30, 2009

Alamo-case mom freed after week behind bars

TEXARKANA – After spending more than a week in jail for refusing to answer questions about a video posted on a Web site, a member of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries on Thursday earned her freedom – and a $1,000 fine.

Debra Ondrisek, 57, who lives in Texarkana, had been jailed since Jan. 20, when she was found in contempt of court during a hearing on whether children in the ministry are at risk of physical and sexual abuse. Her 13-year-old son and 16-yearold daughter are among those who have been removed from their homes in the ministry and placed in foster care. She also has an adult daughter, who remains in the ministry, and three grown sons who have all left.

Among the topics Ondrisek was asked about at the hearing was the video on the Web site,, which contends that the ministry is the victim of a Vatican-led conspiracy.

Set to inspirational music, the video shows Ondrisek’s daughter sobbing, her head resting on her older sister’s shoulder, during what appears to be a visit with her family at an Arkansas Department of Human Services office. It then shows a montage of photographs of ministry children who have been placed in foster care.

“These children were taken into DHS custody, under false allegations,” the Web site says. “Parents are thrown into jails for not disclosing where the rest of their children are. Who would want to see their children in torment because they can not see their Moms and Dads? Wake Up People.”

If Ondrisek had provided the video and photographs to the Web site, Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin said, that would be a violation of his gag order barring participants from sharing information about the case. He ordered Ondrisek to be held in jail until she answered the Human Services Department’s questions.

On Thursday, Ondrisek gave answers. But Griffin said, “I don’t particularly find those answers to be credible, and I told her so.”

“I think she had time to think about what she was going to tell the court,” Griffin said after the hearing, which was closed to reporters.

Griffin said Ondrisek could be released after she pays a $1,000 fine, which he called a punishment for wasting the court’s time and costing taxpayers the expense of housing her at the Miller County jail.

Miller County Sheriff Ron Stovall said Ondrisek paid the amount and was released at 2:42 p.m. Thursday.

Attorney Lisa Wilkins of Texarkana, Texas, who represented Ondrisek at the hearing, declined to comment, citing the gag order.

Since a September raid on the church’s compound in Fouke, a total of 36 ministry children have been taken into custody and placed in foster care. Judges have upheld the Human Services Department’s removal of 30 children but have said they can return to their parents if the parents move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry. A hearing on the removal of the other six children is set for today in Sebastian County Circuit Court.

Tony Alamo, the ministry’s 74-year-old leader, is being held in the jail annex of the Bi-State Justice Center in Texarkana, Texas, awaiting a May 18 trial on charges that he transported five underage girls across state lines for sex over the past 15 years.

In addition to Ondrisek, two other parents were jailed during the hearing earlier this month. Don Thorne, 54, of Texarkana, who has a 13-year-old son in foster care, has been in jail since Jan. 13 for refusing to say where his other two children are.

Bethany Myers, 35, of Fouke, who has three sons in custody, was jailed Jan. 22 after refusing to disclose the whereabouts of her husband and three daughters. Griffin said Thursday that Myers invoked her Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination in response to some questions.

Griffin said he might hold a hearing as early as next week to see whether Thorne and Myers have decided to talk.

He added, “I’ve put the burden on them to let me know” if they have anything to say. “I’m not going to think about it every day.”

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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