Alamo judge delays two girls' abuse hearings

Arkansas Democrat Gazette/October 15, 2008

Hearings on abuse allegations involving two girls taken from Tony Alamo's religious compound in southwest Arkansas will be postponed to give attorneys for the Arkansas Department of Human Services time to take sworn depositions from out-of-state witnesses, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The girls are among six, ages 10 to 17, who were removed from the compound in Fouke during a raid on Sept. 20. All the girls are now in foster homes.

Alamo, the 74-year-old head of a ministry that also has operations in Fort Smith, California and New Jersey, was arrested in Arizona on Sept. 25 on a federal charge of transporting minors across state lines to engage in sexual activity. Authorities have not elaborated on what Alamo is accused of doing or whether the charges relate to the girls now in foster care.

Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson is presiding over the protective services cases of two of the girls, and Judge Joe Griffin is handling the two cases involving the other four girls, who are two pairs of sisters.

Hudson's cases had been set for adjudication hearings, in which he will make a final ruling on whether the girls were abused, on Oct. 20, with hearings in Griffin's cases to follow the next day.

But the Human Services Department asked for the hearings to be delayed, saying it needs more time to take sworn depositions from witnesses. Those witnesses include three to eight minors who live outside the state or more than 100 miles from Texarkana, Hudson said.

At a hearing Tuesday, Hudson granted delays in his cases, moving the hearings to the week of Nov. 17. He said Griffin will likely make a similar ruling.

"Some part or all of my two, and some part or all of his two, will start on the 17 th," Hudson said late Tuesday afternoon after the hearing, which was closed to the public. "We will try to schedule the four of them in some sane fashion that week." At a hearing Sept. 26, Hudson found probable cause to believe the girls in his cases had been abused, and he ordered them to remain in foster care until the adjudication hearings. The parents in Griffin's cases waived their rights to probable-cause hearings.

In Hudson's cases, both parents of one girl and the father of the other girl are members of Alamo's church. They were represented at Tuesday's hearing by attorney Marshall Moore of Texarkana, who didn't return calls late Tuesday.

Attorney Pamela Fisk of Texarkana, Texas, has been appointed to represent the mother who does not belong to the church. There was no answer at Fisk's office late Tuesday.

The girls did not attend Tuesday's hearing, but they were represented by court-appointed attorneys Amy Freeman and Carla Reyes, Hudson said.

At the adjudication hearings, the judges will decide whether the abuse allegations are supported by a preponderance of the evidence. They could order the children to return home, possibly with conditions, keep them in foster care or place them with relatives. Documents in the cases are confidential, and the hearings are closed to the public.

It is common for the Human Services Department to request that an adjudication hearing be postponed, especially in case involving out of state witnesses, department spokesman Julie Munsell said.

"There's a lot of time and effort involved in locating people and then getting to depose them or gather some statements from them," Munsell said.

Authorities have said they are investigating allegations that children were physically and sexually abused at the compound and that child pornography was produced there.

In his sermons and in interviews, Alamo has said the Bible teaches that girls are old enough to be married when they begin menstruating, but he has said that he does not allow underage marriages in his church. He has also denied that any children have been abused at the compound or that pornography was produced there.

On Tuesday, Alamo was still "en-route" to Arkansas from the Coconino County jail in Flagstaff, where he left more than a week ago, said Richard O'Connell, the U. S. marshal for the western district of Arkansas. He said Alamo should arrive in Arkansas this week.

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