A federal jury in Ft. Smith, Ark., on Thursday found religious cult leader Tony Alamo innocent on a charge that he threatened to kidnap a federal judge.
When the verdict was read, Alamo sat motionless at first, then turned and hugged his defense attorney, Jeffrey Dickstein.
“It’s a major victory for the people of the United States of America,” Dickstein said. “Every church in the United States was at issue in this case. If government had won this one, no pastor could bad-mouth . . . the government.”
Alamo was charged with threatening to have U.S. District Judge Morris S. Arnold kidnaped in retaliation for the judge’s ruling against Alamo in a civil case. Arnold’s ruling, which crushed Alamo’s multimillion-dollar religious and clothing empire, was made last year in the same courtroom where Alamo stood trial this week.
Alamo still faces a federal charge of fleeing to avoid prosecution in Los Angeles. He fled in 1988, after being charged with felony child abuse for allegedly directing followers to beat an 11-year-old boy, who was struck with a wooden paddle more than 100 times at Alamo’s now-defunct commune in Saugus.
Deputy Dist. Atty. John Asari said Thursday it was too early to know when Alamo will be brought to Los Angeles to face those charges because he could fight extradition.
“The timetable is up in the air,” Asari said.
In the Arkansas case, the government based its charge against Alamo on a journalist’s notes and the flamboyant evangelist’s taped radio sermons. Prosecutors contended that Alamo said he wanted Arnold pulled from his home and put on trial.
Alamo’s lawyer said the cult leader was simply referring to a subpoena to compel the judge to testify.
Prosecutors said Alamo was angry about a $1.4-million judgment Arnold awarded to six former Alamo followers who sued the evangelist. To satisfy the judgment, Arnold ordered the seizure and sale of Alamo property that followers estimated at $50 million.
Dickstein said federal officials consider Alamo a threat because he has criticized such things as the U.S. war against Iraq and the lack of gold and silver backing for U.S. currency.
The charge against Alamo was filed after an article appeared in the Southwest Times Record newspaper at Ft. Smith on Feb. 22.