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Alamo Ministries member convicted

Associate pleads no contest to charges of accessory to child abuse

Posted: July 10, 2009 9:19 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2009 9:00 a.m.
 
It was 1988, and Justin Miller, 11, was pinned face-down over a sofa, waiting for pain.

His mother and other members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in a compound near Saugus held him there as they recited into a telephone a list of charges against him - from giggling in the chapel to disrespecting an adult.

On the other end of the line, church founder Tony Alamo briefly deliberated before handing down a "sentence" for each transgression: a total of more than 140 heavy-handed paddles with a wooden plank.

The beating, described by a former attorney for Miller, lasted about an hour and a half and left Miller severely injured.

And on Thursday, nearly 21 years later, the very first person was convicted in the case.

Douglas Christopher, a 55-year-old associate of the embattled church, pleaded no contest this week to being an accessory to the child abuse, said Los Angeles County District Attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons. He was sentenced to 164 days in jail, which he had already served, and three years of supervised probation.

He had been accused of being one of Alamo's followers who pinned Miller over the couch.

Christopher's plea comes as Alamo is on trial on federal charges of bringing children across state lines for sex. Alamo's church has had a headquarters on Sierra Highway north of Saugus for more than 40 years.

And it comes years after a troubled Miller dropped out of contact with many who knew him, said his former lawyer, Peter N. Georgiades.

"He was missing for some time," Georgiades said Friday.

The Pittsburgh attorney, who represented Miller for six years in successful lawsuits against Alamo's church in the 1990s, said he was overjoyed to hear someone was finally convicted in a criminal case. He said he felt so threatened by Alamo's followers that he wore a bullet-proof vest to work during that case.

Georgiades described the beating: "They were savage, inhumane, barbaric - I mean, the legal term for it is ‘intolerable in a civilized society,'" he said. "I've never seen a case where that phrase fit so well."

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