LITTLE ROCK — A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered punitive damages against an evangelist who ordered two boys to be beaten to be reduced from $60 million to $24 million.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an additional $3 million award each for the two men, now in their 20s, who grew up in Tony Alamo’s ministries.
The court’s decision comes after a jury last year found Alamo liable for battery, outrage and conspiracy and awarded the two men $30 million each in punitive damages, plus another $3 million each for the abuse they suffered.
The appeals court said Tuesday that the men should get $12 million each instead of $30 million each in punitive damages.
"Despite the exceptionally reprehensible nature of Alamo’s conduct, it would be unconstitutional to let the punitive damages - and their 10:1 ratio to compensatory damages - stand," Judge Duane Benton wrote in an opinion for a three-judge panel.
Alamo, who was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman, is serving a 175-year prison term after being convicted in 2009 of taking girls across state lines for sex. He has asked the court to vacate that sentence, too.
The federal appeals court shot down Alamo’s other arguments, including one that he wasn’t liable because he was exercising his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.
The court said the two young men who sued Alamo were raised in Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and were forced to work without pay starting at the age of 8. Alamo had an enforcer beat one of the boys when he was 12 because he made a small tunnel while hauling dirt for the church. The court said the other boy was hit so hard he vomited.
"They still have trouble sleeping, experiencing nightmares and flashbacks," Benton wrote in the court’s opinion.
Alamo’s attorney John Wesley Hall Jr. said his client doesn’t have the money to pay for the damages.
David Carter, who represents the two men who sued Alamo, said Alamo took property out of his name after he was convicted of tax evasion.
"The church and to some extent Alamo himself realistically are the owners of a lot of the property, but it’s going to take some entangling to get the courts to decide ultimately who owns what," Carter said.
Carter also said they were pleased that the court upheld the jury’s findings about Alamo’s liability.