Evangelist may not testify in his sex-crimes case
TEXARKANA, Ark. — The woman considered to be the common-law wife of evangelist Tony Alamo told jurors at his sex-crimes trial Tuesday that she thought the wedding rings in his bedroom were donations to the ministry, and that she didn’t notice that younger and younger girls were living with them.
Sharon Alamo, who was testifying for the defense, appeared at times to be reading from a notebook she took to the stand with her. The judge told her to rely on her memory. When lawyers took a break to confer, Tony Alamo gave her a thumbs-up.
Tony Alamo, 74, is accused of taking five young girls across state lines for sex between 1994 and 1995 after “marrying” them. Defense lawyers say prosecutors targeted him because the government is anti-Christian. Alamo, who has pleaded not guilty, has also said the Vatican is behind his troubles.
Each of the 10 counts against Alamo is punishable by 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Alamo told reporters on the way to court Tuesday that he planned to take the stand to defend himself, despite his lawyers’ advice against it. But when leaving that afternoon, Alamo said his defense team had “won the case already without me having to take the stand.”
Defense attorney Phillip Kuhn said Alamo’s lawyers had counseled him not to take the witness stand, though no final decision would be made until Wednesday. Kuhn said defense lawyers plan to call two more witnesses, meaning jurors could have the case as soon as Wednesday afternoon.
During her testimony, Sharon Alamo, 50, acknowledged to jurors that she had seen young women wearing wedding rings around the house.
“Didn’t you notice the girls moving into the defendant’s residence … were getting younger and younger?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Fowlkes asked.
“No, I didn’t,” she replied.
She said she believed the collection of wedding rings found in Alamo’s bedroom were donations. Prosecution witnesses have testified that rings were given to underage girls when Alamo “married” them.
Sharon Alamo said she never formally married Alamo but lives with him, took his name and conducted business as his wife.
“We were together for a while but decided to separate but still live and work together,” Sharon Alamo said. As she spoke, Alamo muttered to his lawyers, “They don’t understand it’s a spiritual marriage.”
As she left court, Alamo said: “Bye, baby.”
Over four days of graphic testimony last week, five women said they were “married” to Alamo as teens or preteens and were sexually assaulted by him. They said they traveled to other states for sex with him or responded to his call and returned to Arkansas and had sex with him.
Alamo has said the girls, part of his estimated 100-200 followers, were traveling to help spread the ministry’s teachings. His apocalyptic tracts outline his hatred of the Vatican and his feared “one-world government” as well as his belief in flying saucers.
With defense witnesses, Alamo’s lawyers offered questions trying to show that the his trips out of state came from business, ministerial or personal reasons. Defense lawyers largely left the issue of Alamo having sex with the girls alone, though repeatedly tried to cast doubt on an alleged sexual encounter he had on his touring bus with a girl he took as a bride at age 11.
Another witness for Alamo — the mother of an 18-year-old woman who said testified last week that she was “married” to Alamo at age 8 — spoke to jurors for about 20 minutes before U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes ordered her remarks stricken from the record.
The woman, a key aide to Alamo, refused to say where she had been since a Sept. 20 raid on his Arkansas compound. She has four underage children who are being sought by state welfare officials. State officials already have seized 36 children associated with the ministry.
Before claiming her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in the judge’s chambers, the woman told jurors she was “hiding from harassment” and that her daughter was “constantly trouble.”
Last week, the 18-year-old told jurors that her parents had interfered with her attempt to enter foster care in New Mexico by telling welfare officials that all was fine in Arkansas and that she was a liar.
Other witnesses who testified Alamo’s behalf Wednesday included his longtime cross-country driver and two other women whom prosecutors have described as “wives” of the evangelist.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case against Alamo earlier Tuesday after playing recordings of telephone calls he made while being held before trial. On one, he told a girl who questioned one of his orders that he was still in control of the Arkansas compound, even though he was in jail.
“Just because I’m in jail, you’ll find out that I’m still in charge. OK, kid? You understand?” Alamo told the girl, who is not among those he is accused of abusing.