More accusers set to testify against evangelist

Associated Press/July 16, 2009

Texarkana, Arkansas - More women are scheduled to take the stand Thursday to accuse jailed evangelist Tony Alamo of taking them as underage brides.

A woman who said she married Alamo at 17 will start the day's testimony. Prosecutors said her words will bolster claims that Alamo took underage girls across state lines for sex between 1994 and 2005.

On Wednesday, a 30-year-old woman told jurors the evangelist "married" her at age 15 and took her on road trips through different states.

Lawyers for Alamo, 74, suggested that she agreed to testify because the Justice Department paid for two weeks of counseling at a mental health center that caters to former cult members.

"There wasn't anything done that helped create in your mind an image of Mr. Alamo as a demon?" chief defense lawyer Don Ervin asked.

"I didn't need help with anything like that," the woman replied. The Associated Press isn't using the woman's name because the news organization generally doesn't identify those who say they were victims of sex crimes.

The evangelist's lawyers questioned how the woman could remember events from 15 years ago, but not from last October, when she first reached out to FBI agents after a raid on Alamo's southwestern Arkansas compound.

"The things that happened to me 15 years ago were very, very traumatic," the witness said.

The woman said she was a third-generation Alamo follower into adulthood - until the Arkansas-based pastor took an 8-year-old as his latest bride. At one point, the woman said, she objected when Alamo graphically described how he fondled the girl as she held a stuffed animal.

"He told me to shut up and that I shouldn't question what `the Lord told me to do,'" the woman said.

The woman also said Alamo's itinerary and number of travel companions helped dictate how often he would schedule sex with female followers. Prosecutors allege that some girls were brought to him for sex while he was awaiting a 1994 trial on a tax evasion charge.

In her earlier testimony, the woman said she felt forced to become one of Alamo's brides at age 15. Alamo said the Lord had told him to take her as his wife, and that she feared she and her family would be shunned if she did not submit, she testified.

"We didn't have anywhere to go," said the woman, whose parents and grandparents were also Alamo followers.

The "marriage" took place at Alamo's compound but was not formally registered with the state. Three days after the impromptu ceremony, Alamo had sex with her for the first time, she said.

Prosecutors spent much of Wednesday going through a series of photographs of Alamo with women from his compounds. At one point, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner asked the witness, "Who is the girl on the right wearing the Barbie shirt?"

The witness said it was the 8-year-old that Alamo had taken "as his wife."

If convicted, Alamo faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. He is being held without bond.

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