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Victims set to testify at evangelist's sentencing

Victims set to testify at evangelist's sentencing

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By JON GAMBRELL

Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Several of the child "wives" who helped convict evangelist Tony Alamo of federal sex charges were expected to return to the witness stand on Friday during his sentencing hearing.

The 75-year-old leader of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries were scheduled to appear in court in Texarkana. A jury convicted him in July on a 10-count indictment accusing him of taking young girls across state lines for sex. Alamo faces up to 175 years in prison

After the jury's decision, the apocalyptic preacher told reporters: "I'm just another one of the prophets that went to jail for the Gospel."

How long he stays behind bars will be up to U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes, who will rule after Alamo's lawyers plead for leniency. However, prosecutors believe Barnes will side with victims and apply a sentencing ensuring that Alamo never gets released.

"We believe he will face the rest of his natural life in prison," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner said in July.

Each count also carries possible fines of $250,000.

In court filings, federal prosecutors said three of the women Alamo "married" at ages as young as 8 will offer victim-impact testimony. Prosecutors said the three also offered written statements for Alamo's sentencing report.

In their efforts to sway Barnes, defense lawyers offered letters from followers and a report from one of Alamo's doctors. The doctor expressed alarm that the evangelist has lost around 70 pounds since his arrest in September 2008 and noted that Alamo suffered a fainting spell and has had hallucinations.

That weight loss, and his previous poor health, leaves Alamo dangerously exposed to heart problems, Dr. Samuel Berkman wrote.

"I would call him a walking time bomb," Berkman wrote.

During the trial, Alamo's child "brides" described how he "married" them in private ceremonies while they were minors, sometimes giving them wedding rings. Each detailed trips beyond Arkansas' borders during which Alamo had sex with them.

With little physical evidence, prosecutors relied on the women's stories to paint an emotional portrait of a charismatic religious leader who was in charge of every aspect of his subjects' lives.

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.

FBI agents and Arkansas State Police troopers had raided Alamo's Fouke compound on Sept. 20, 2008, searching for evidence of the photos the evangelist took of the underage girls he abused. He was arrested five days later in Arizona.

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