Arkansas Tony Alamo asks judge to vacate 175-year sentence

By Lynn LaRowe

Texarkana Gazette

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) -- Imprisoned evangelist Tony Alamo claims the lawyers who represented him at trial and on appeal were ineffective in a motion filed Monday to vacate his 175-year sentence for sex crimes.

Alamo, whose given name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, was convicted in July 2009 of all 10 counts listed in a federal indictment accusing him of bringing five women he wed as children across state lines for sex. Later that year, U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes sentenced Alamo to the maximum term, 175 years.

Alamo was denied a request by Barnes for a new trial. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to even consider the case. Monday, Clayton, Mo., attorney John Rogers filed a 33-page motion for post-conviction relief, alleging Alamo's trial lawyers made serious errors and his appellate attorney inadequately handled his case.

"We believe there are quite a few areas that are remarkable in this case and we are asking the district court to consider the arguments we've made," Rogers said.

Alamo claims his trial lawyers, Don Ervin of Houston, Phillip Kuhn of Florida and Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana, should have asked the court for a longer continuance of the trial date when Alamo's second defense attorney, Daniel Davis of California, was fired about a month before trial.

Alamo's first attorney in the criminal case, John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, was fired when Davis was brought into the case. Hall was later hired by Alamo to conduct his appeal, which ultimately failed. Hall is now representing Alamo in civil suits filed by former ministry members. The motion Rogers filed on Alamo's behalf Monday accuses Hall of ineffectively handling Alamo's appeals in the criminal case.

Rogers' motion alleges Alamo's trial lawyers should have done a better job of keeping testimony about other misdeeds from the jury's ears. The motion claims the jury would not have heard about prior instances of sexual molestation by Alamo of church members if his lawyers had done a better job objecting. Testimony about beatings, child labor violations, polygamy, shady business practices and tax evasion wouldn't have come before the jury either if Alamo's defense team had performed their duties as expected, the motion alleges.

The motion alleges Alamo gave his lawyers the names of potential witnesses whose testimony might have made a difference at trial, but they were never contacted. The majority of the individuals listed in the motion as potential witnesses are ministry members.

The motion further asserts Alamo's defense team should have moved for a mistrial based on questions from the jury and a response from Barnes during deliberations. Alamo's trial counsel also fell short because they did not request a change of venue in the case based on pretrial publicity, the motion complains.

The motion accuses Hall of failing to raise issues on appeal that could have resulted in a new trial.

Rogers' motion alleges the government withheld evidence that might have been favorable to Alamo, such as reports prepared by the FBI and Arkansas State Police. The motion filed Monday in Alamo's criminal case alleges documents the government did not produce might have surfaced in civil suits filed after Alamo's conviction. Rogers argues the court cannot be certain Alamo received a fair trial if evidence was withheld, even if it turns out the law enforcement reports wouldn't have made a difference in the trial's outcome had they been provided to the defense.

Because the documents at issue are the subject of a protective order in a civil suit, Rogers has not inspected them to determine if they were withheld at trial. Rogers' motion indicates he is seeking a court order to permit inspection.

Rogers complains the government intentionally avoided discussing the possibility of restitution in the criminal case or a civil suit for damages with the victims before Alamo's criminal trial so that it wouldn't have to produce evidence of such discussions to Alamo's defense team.

Such evidence might have allowed the defense to argue the victims had a financial interest in Alamo's conviction and motive to lie.

Alamo's motion claims he is entitled to a new trial because he didn't testify on his own behalf.

"In private discussions with his attorneys, following substantial back and forth with counsel, (Alamo) agreed not to testify on the condition that counsel would raise several issues on his behalf," the motion states. "Here, (Alamo's) waiver of his right to testify was based on inducements by his counsel that they would submit evidence and/or argument that was never submitted or argued to the jury."

The motion has been referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant in the Texarkana division of the Western District of Arkansas.

Alamo, 77, is currently serving his time at a federal lockup in Marion, Ill.

Published: Wed, Jun 13, 2012