Reverend convicted of child cruelty wants new trial

The Associated Press/July 9, 2004

An attorney for a reverend convicted of child cruelty at his Atlanta church urged a judge for a new trial, saying the court erred by letting the man defend himself.

Judge T. Jackson Bedford made no immediate ruling following the Thursday hearing. However, the judge said he remembered cautioning the Rev. Arthur Allen against representing himself. Allen and four others were convicted in 2002 of beating boys in the House of Prayer, his independent church.

Deborah Poole, Allen's lawyer, argued that the court should have appointed Allen a standby lawyer despite his objections.

"It wasn't until he was in the throes of the trial when he realized he was sinking _ and he was sinking fast," she said. The documents given to Allen to prepare him for the case, she said, were not enough. "Two pages is not a law school education."

Poole also repeated Allen's argument from the 2002 trial, complaining that the state law _ which permits corporal punishment as long as it isn't excessive _ was vague. She seemed to upset the judge when she tried to call a victim of the child beatings to the stand.

"I don't have to see (the boy)," Bedford said. "I've seen the pictures."

Allen, 72, was the focus of one of the state's most highly publicized trials in 2002 when prosecutors proved that church members beat children with a belt strap while under Allen's supervision. "This was more than a serious whipping," prosecutor Marc Mallon said Thursday. "This was ritualistic beating of the members of this small church."

He was sentenced to 90 days in prison and 10 years of probation, but he didn't report to his probation officer and skipped a 2003 hearing. For five months, he eluded police officers until he was arrested in August 2003 by National Park Service rangers who found him in a parked car in a Cobb County park. A judge sentenced him to two years in prison.

Poole said if the judge declines a new trial, she will ask him to renegotiate Allen's parole. "A two year sentence for a 72-year-old man is very different from a two year sentence for an 18-year-old," Poole said.

Allen's supporters who lined the back two rows of the courtroom were a familiar sight to the reverend, who smiled at them as he took his seat. Members of his church have been a constant presence at his court appearances and at Thursday's hearing they brought along at least one child who was a victim of the beatings.

Forty-nine children were taken into state custody from six House of Prayer families in March 2001 after their parents refused to protect the children from the beatings. The children have since returned home. In his final sermon before heading to jail in 2002, Allen defiantly pretended to whip a boy and urged church members to continue using force to discipline their children.

After the trial, dozens of Allen's supporters huddled around Poole, questioning her about the next step for their pastor.

"We won't give up hope until there is no hope," she said.

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