LITTLE ROCK — Three defendants in a lawsuit alleging that members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries failed to protect young girls from being sexually abused have asked for a change of venue, citing “persistent and extensive media coverage” of civil and criminal cases related to the ministry.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Texarkana in August 2010, accuses several ministry members and ministry-related organizations and businesses of failing to properly monitor the activities of Tony Alamo, the church’s leader. The suit was filed by six women. Five of them say they were taken as Alamo’s “wives” at young ages and one says she escaped before a “marriage” could take place. Another woman who says she is a former wife was added as a seventh plaintiff in December.
Alamo, 76, was convicted in 2009 of taking five of the women across state lines for sex when they were underage in violation of the federal Mann Act. He was sentenced to 175 years in prison.
In a filing Tuesday, the three defendants said news coverage of Alamo’s criminal case and other cases associated with the ministry, which has a church and housing complex in Fouke, would make it difficult to choose impartial jurors from the seven counties that make up the western district of Arkansas’ Texakana division.
The defendants asked for the case to be transferred to the district’s Hot Springs division, which they noted is outside the circulation area of the Texarkana Gazette and Shreveport-based television station KTAL, Channel 6.
The Hot Springs division, they said, “maintains convenience while providing a potential jury pool that is less likely to be swayed by the ‘guilt by association’ mentality based on the extensive and persistent media coverage surrounding the events giving rise to this litigation.”
The request was filed by attorneys for Steve Johnson, identified in the lawsuit as a member of the church, as well as for the ministry-affiliated businesses Jeanne Estates Apartments Inc. and Advantage Food Group, both based in Fort Smith.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs had not responded to the request late Wednesday.