Federal Grand Jury Seated In Fort Smith To Hear Tony Alamo Case
(Fort Smith, AR) — A federal grand jury in Fort Smith has begun hearing the case against Tony Alamo, the evangelist who operates a church compound in Fouke and is accused of transporting minors across state lines for sex.
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Alamo Choses Team of Lawyers
Religious leader Tony Alamo has chosen a team of lawyers.
Little Rock lawyers John Wesley Hall Junior and Patrick Benca will defend Alamo, along with Texarkana lawyer Jeff Harrelson.
The U.S. Marshalls will not disclose when or how Alamo will arrive in Texarkana.
How Tony Alamo’s grand jury hearing will work
5NEWS has been told by a staff member of the U.S. Attorneys office that Alamo is not back in Arkansas at this point and may not be for a few weeks as extradition protocol is followed.
Meanwhile, the case to indict him has begun at the federal courthouse in Fort Smith.Â Grand jury proceedings are taking place behind closed doors at the federal courthouse.Â Registered voters from across western Arkansas are impaneled by a judge and the U.S. attorney.
Grand juries are provided for under amendment five of the U.S. constitution and the proceedings are not public.Â The group meets about every six weeks to consider cases brought to them by the U.S. Attorney.Â He or she presents the evidence against a defendant and the grand jury decides whether or not to return an indictment.
They can vote one of two ways: jurors can return a true bill to indict a defendant…or they can come back with a no bill, meaning they fail to find sufficient evidence for a trial.
As for the Alamo case, it’s not clear what allegations the grand jury is being asked to consider.Â What you may not know is that the defense has no part in the process.
“I think the modern criticism of the federal grand jury is that it really becomes more of a rubber stamp for the prosecutors case,” Dr. Willoughby told 5NEWS.
But others argue that it’s simply another check in the case to make sure a crime has been committed and there is sufficient evidence to suspect the defendant.Â
Alamo case major test for state DHS
By taking custody of six girls from an evangelist’s compound in southwest Arkansas in a sexual abuse investigation, the state’s Department of Human Services will get a shot at redemption in the eyes of legislators and others who have criticized the agency’s handling of other foster care cases.
The agency took temporary custody of six girls from Tony Alamo’s compound at Fouke after a Sept. 20 raid by state and federal agents in a sexual abuse investigation. The one-time rock promoter and street preacher was arrested Thursday by the FBI while leaving a Flagstaff, Ariz., hotel, on charges of violating the Mann Act, usually used in interstate prostitution cases.
With the Alamo case, DHS takes a high-profile test of its abilities as it faces increased scrutiny over the deaths of four foster children and the conviction of a Bella Vista man who admitted having sexual contact with boys the state placed in his care.
A review of the state’s foster-care system was already under way before the deaths of the four children, but has been accelerated because of them, Gov. Mike Beebe’s office says.
DHS Director John Selig said he thinks the Alamo case will give the state the chance to show a success story in taking children in its care.
State officials should be wary of the spotlight the Alamo case may put them under. Selig said the raid on a polygamist compound in Texas earlier this year was on the minds of DHS officials as they considered how to approach Alamo’s ministry.
Texas authorities raided a ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in April, looking for evidence of underage marriages and abuse involving sect girls. Texas child welfare authorities initially put all 440 children at the ranch in foster care but were forced to return them by a Texas Supreme Court ruling that found evidence showed abuse in only a handful of cases.
“It’s certainly something we were cognizant of,” Selig said. “We were aware early on that we needed to look at these children on a case-by-case basis and not look at Alamo as a group or a geographic area as a whole and say all children in that area are going to be treated the same … So that was in our minds, in part, what happened in Texas.”
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