New lawyer signals new strategy in Alamo case

Associated Press/March 17, 2009

Little Rock, Arkansas - California lawyer Danny Davis has wanted to separate jailed evangelist Tony Alamo from the abuse allegations that trail his ministry.

"There is a man and there is the myth," Davis said. "He has become a myth in the character of this monstrous felony accusation."

That's what Davis told The Los Angeles Times in 1991 while representing Alamo in a child-abuse case that never went to trial. Now, almost 20 years later, the Beverly Hills lawyer apparently will defend the aging evangelist against federal charges that could leave him behind bars until his death.

Alamo's choice of Davis means the evangelist likely wants to attack the credibility of witnesses who will claim the evangelist took young girls across the state lines for sex.

Davis is best known for his work as a defense lawyer in the McMartin Pre-School molestation trial, one of the nation's longest-running and costliest criminal trials. Defending preschool worker Raymond Buckey, Davis focused on discounting the alleged victims' bizarre accounts of animal mutilation, blood drinking and underground tunnels running through the day-care center.

A jury acquitted Buckey of 40 charges, but deadlocked over 13 others. Prosecutors refiled eight charges against Buckey and a jury deadlocked in a second trial. Prosecutors declined to charge him a third time.

In Alamo's case, Davis will have to contend with allegations that the preacher "married" two young girls and sexually molested them, on top of claims that he took pictures of the girls naked.

Davis did not return calls for comment Monday. The lawyer told the Texarkana Gazette last week that Alamo had "misgivings about the level of preparation" for the May 18 trial.

"My first observation is that in six months I don't see that anything's been done and this alarms me," Davis told the newspaper. "I'll be quickly up to my eyeballs in trying to prepare this case."

Davis will take over the case from John Wesley Hall Jr., a Little Rock criminal defense lawyer who said he already laid much of the groundwork for such a defense. Hall said he and others in his law practice have visited Alamo in jail multiple times, conducted interviews with ministry members and gathered materials from them. He declined to say whether the ministry kept files on ex-members, saying he remained bound by attorney-client privilege.

"The essence of it is (the abuse) didn't happen," Hall said Monday. "These are people with an ax to grind against Tony Alamo Christian Ministries."

Hall remains listed as Alamo's lawyer in the federal docket, but said he will turn over the case to Davis. Interim U.S. Attorney Debbie Groom declined to comment about prosecutors' preparations for trial.

In 1991, Davis defended the evangelist against felony child-abuse charges over an alleged 1988 beating of an 11-year-old boy at a ministry compound north of Los Angeles. Then, Jeremiah Justin Miller claimed Alamo directed the beating over a speakerphone after he asked a science question during a history class and wore a metal-studded leather scarf, designed by the preacher, without permission.

At a hearing Davis portrayed Miller as an unruly child whose memories had been exaggerated by coaching from his adopted father.

Five years later, prosecutors dropped the charges against Alamo after federal prosecutors sent him to prison over tax evasion charges. At the time, prosecutors said Alamo would have served only five months in prison in convicted in the child-abuse case, something not worth the expense and time of a difficult trial.

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