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Tuesday, May 17, 2005County: Tangipahoa
Disposition: Not Charged
Persons of Interest:
» Louis David Lamonica
» Christopher Blair Labat
» Austin Aaron Bernard, III
» Robbin Lamonica
» Allen R Pierson
» Paul Fontenot
» Patricia Pierson
» Nicole Bernard
» Lois Ann Mowbray
Case Updates: 3 update(s) available
Authorities arrested a Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's deputy and a self-proclaimed minister May 17, 2005 as part of a six-week investigation into the alleged cult-like practices of a Ponchatoula church that included having sex with children and animals, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards stated.
Deputies also arrested a third man for aggravated rape of a juvenile and seized computers and a carpet sample at the church Tuesday night.
Investigators believe a splinter group of the Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula formed a cult whose practices included having sex with children and animals from 1999 until the church disbanded in 2003.
Five victims have been interviewed so far, and investigators believe there are more potential victims. The victims range in age from infants to teens and include boys and girls.
Edwards stated some cult members are parents of the victims. The parents either knew about the alleged abuse or harmed their own children.
Edwards stated the animal victims are cats and dogs.
Edwards stated that the minister is likely the leader of the group, but investigators have not confirmed that yet.
The alleged acts also don't appear to be a part of the regular worship of the church and took place in classrooms on the church property and not in the sanctuary.
Not all members of the church knew about the alleged sexual acts, Edwards stated.
Authorities searched the church and turned the two computers and the carpet sample over to the State Police Crime Lab. The lab is checking the computers for evidence of child pornography.
Two of the men in custody and the victims have told investigators some sexual acts were recorded.
The investigation began six weeks ago when a woman in Columbus, Ohio, contacted Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's authorities about sexual misconduct involving her child. The woman told deputies she fled Louisiana several months ago to protect her child after finding out about the sexual acts of some members of the Hosanna Church.
The woman waited until a week ago to provide detailed accounts of the alleged crimes and told deputies the FBI had requested she postpone talking to them, Edwards said. The FBI is involved because the crimes potentially include child pornography.
In the meantime, Reverend Louis Lamonica, 45, of Holden, surrendered to Livingston Parish sheriff's deputies Monday. Lamonica is the former minister of the Hosanna Church and confessed to having sex with children and animals. Labat was booked into the Livingston Parish jail on two counts of aggravated rape and one count of crime against nature.
Authorities in Tangipahoa Parish arrested Tangipahoa Parish sheriff's deputy Christopher Blair Labat, 24, of Lumino Lane, Hammond, on Tuesday afternoon on counts of aggravated rape and malfeasance in office.
Labat, a patrol deputy hired in January 2004, was fired from his job the same day of his arrest, Edwards said. Authorities included the malfeasance count because as a sworn officer, Labat should have reported the alleged crimes.
Labat is isolated and on suicide watch in the Tangipahoa Parish jail as a precaution.
The third suspect, Austin Aaron Bernard III, 36, of Southwest Railroad Ave., was arrested early Wednesday morning and confessed to having sex with a juvenile under age 13 around November 2002, deputies stated.
He was booked into the parish jail on aggravated rape.
Additional arrests and counts against the men are expected in the coming weeks, Edwards stated.
The investigation involves multiple agencies, including the Tangipahoa and Livingston parish sheriffs, the Ponchatoula Police Department and the FBI.
|A former pastor will serve four concurrent life sentences for raping his two sons, both of whom pleaded with the judge not to imprison their father for life during Tuesday's sentencing hearing in the 21st Judicial District Court in Amite.|
Louis D. Lamonica, 49, of Hammond, was convicted on Sept. 5 of four counts of aggravated rape for abusing his two sons when they were age 11 or younger.
Lamonica is the second of the seven members of the now-defunct Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula to be convicted of rape for their roles in an alleged child sex ring involving three children. Investigators have alleged that some of the acts were part of occult rituals.
Lamonica's sons, now 18 and 22 years of age, were the two victims Lamonica was tried for raping. They testified at his trial that they had lied when they told authorities in 2005 that their father had abused them.
In court Tuesday, Lamonica exchanged smiles with family members, including his mother, aunt and younger son. His younger son read a statement written by the elder son into the court record during Lamonica's sentencing.
"My dad was innocent and yet he was still convicted," Lamonica's son said. "Now through the error of this court, my dad has been taken from me, and I beg for the mercy of this court not to take my dad away for the rest of my life."
Lamonica was sentenced six weeks after a trial that lasted for nearly two weeks before being recessed for five days for the preparation and aftermath of Hurricane Gustav. The trial resumed on Sept. 4, and the jury deliberated for eight hours, finally reaching its decision at 1:45 a.m. on Sept. 5.
Like Lamonica's sons, his attorney, Michael Thiel, reiterated on Tuesday that the former pastor is innocent and had confessed to authorities and in writing that he raped his sons because a so-called prophet at the Hosanna Church controlled him.
Thiel also added that juries have a predisposition to believe child rape charges. That predisposition, coupled with the extensive pre-trial publicity surrounding the arrests in May 2005 and the conviction of Hosanna member Austin "Trey" Bernard III in December 2007, prejudiced the proceedings, Thiel said.
"Try as a person might, it is very difficult to dislodge first impressions," Thiel said.
Assistant District Attorney Don Wall said that the jury reached a just and proper verdict in Lamonica's trial.
"I wouldn't have presented this case to a jury if I believed nothing happened," Wall said.
|Source: 2theAdvocate - Jan 2, 2009|
Update posted on Jan 3, 2009 - 4:33PM
|Prosecutors literally have a truckload of potential evidence to sift through, an unusual set of circumstances to explain to a jury, and far fewer witnesses than they once expected in the case against the members of the defunct Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula. The investigation began when a women who fled to Ohio in March 2005 asked authorities to look into allegations of child abuse committed by the leaders of the church. Then, the church pastor walked into the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office in April 2005 and allegedly confessed to abusing children and animals in a Satanic ritual.|
Now that the cases against the pastor and eight other members of the Hosanna Church are in the hands of the 21st Judicial District Attorney's Office, the investigation has become less about the occult and more about criminal charges of child abuse. Material confiscated by investigators in the cases includes such varied items as computers and a crossbow, but prosecutors are still trying to determine which of the countless items will be used as evidence and which ones point to the defendants' innocence and must be turned over to defense attorneys.
District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said he's pleased to find that the cases appear to involve far fewer victims than law enforcement officials feared last spring when they began a two-month investigation that led to nine arrests. Initially, law enforcement authorities talked of possibly 100 victims, but the number of victims identified turns out to be three, Perrilloux said. The case received a lot of attention and involves a "very bizarre set of facts, but evidence doesn't indicate the abuse was as widespread as investigators initially thought," Perrilloux said, adding that he doesn't want to comment further on the cases. "Hopefully, we will get one of those cases set (for trial) this year," the district attorney said.
That leaves some daunting tasks for Assistant District Attorney Don Wall, who will prosecute the case. Prosecutors must read thousands of pages of handwritten journals of three of the accused. They also must organize the household items seized from church members' homes and storage sheds that now sit in the trailer of an 18-wheeler outside the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office complex in Hammond. "Because of the fact that prosecutors are responsible for everything in an investigative agency's files, I feel responsible for going through it looking for anything inculpatory and also looking for something exculpatory to give to the defense," Wall said.
Investigators seized a large volume of materials, especially paperwork, much of which has nothing to do with the case, Wall said. For example, there are years worth of bills, insurance paperwork and tax documents that have no bearing on the case, he said. Wall said that he hopes one of the accused can be brought to trial by the end of 2006. He said he has no preference about which defendant goes on trial first, but it likely will be either former pastor Louis David Lamonica or Austin "Trey" Bernard III.
Nine church members were arrested in April and May 2005 in the case, all but one suspected of raping children during a five-year period. Formal charges were brought against seven defendants in June when a grand jury indicted them on varying counts of aggravated rape, which carries the potential penalty of death or life in prison. The state won't seek the death penalty, prosecutors have said. By now, all but one of the nine arrested people have been released from jail after posting bail in amounts ranging from $150,000 to $350,000, Wall said. Austin Bernard remains in jail. The defendants released from jail are living a "normal life" working and staying in touch with parole officials, Wall said. He said that parole officials told him that some of the released suspects are having a difficult time keeping their jobs once an employer discovers what they are accused of doing. Nicole Bernard, who initiated the investigation when she moved to Ohio and was extradited to Louisiana when she became a suspect, was not indicted and will likely be released from her bond obligation, Wall said. The other person not indicted is Lois Mowbray, who was arrested on counts of being an accessory to the child abuse and of not reporting it to authorities. Wall said that there are no plans to indict her based on evidence collected so far. Wall warned that as his investigation continues, Mowbray and Nicole Bernard could be considered suspects again. He also said he is not certain of the extent to which Mowbray or Nicole Bernard could testify against the seven who were indicted.
How much of the more sensational aspects of the investigation will be heard in the courtroom remains to be seen. Much of the alleged abuse documented in the investigation takes place outside of the church setting without any indication that it was part of a ritual, Wall said. Drinking cat's blood or worshiping Satan are not illegal, but sexually abusing a child is, Wall said. "In terms of a criminal case, that is sort of an aside," Wall said. Wall doesn't discount the details that law enforcement officials discussed with the news media during the investigation last year. No physical evidence of the pentagrams or animal sacrifices mentioned by investigators were found. The only indication of the occult comes from statements allegedly made by the suspects. As the investigation progressed, law enforcement authorities initially said that there could be hundreds of victims and later narrowed their estimates to 20. Only three victims, two boys and one girl, are part of the criminal case as it stands. Wall said that there could be other victims out there, but the potential victims contacted by investigators denied any abuse. Defense attorneys contacted by The Advocate declined to comment about the case or did not respond to a message left at their office.
During the peak of the investigation, Louis Lamonica's attorney, Michael Thiel, told The Advocate that he believed the case had been sensationalized. "Generally, I believe there's been a rush to judge based on conjecture, rumors and leaks to the media," Thiel had said in June. As for the church itself on Railroad Avenue near the dividing line between the Ponchatoula and Hammond city limits, the yellow crime scene tape is gone, and the grass is kept trimmed. The name "Hosanna" has been removed from the church's brick façade although shadows of the letters remain. The Louisiana District of the First Assemblies of God legally has reclaimed the property, according to a judgment signed by District Judge Bob Morrison on Feb. 2, records in 21st Judicial District Court show. The church once belonged to the First Assemblies of God, and the church's constitution indicated that if the property ceased to exist as a church that ownership would revert to the association, records show. No former Hosanna Church member has approached the court to claim ownership of the facility, court records show. What will happen to the property and if it will be used again as a church is still unknown. Officials with the Louisiana District of the First Assemblies of God declined to comment about their plans because of ongoing civil litigation.
|Source: The Advocate - March 5, 2006|
Update posted on Oct 15, 2006 - 8:12AM
|Tangipahoa Parish deputies have booked a suspect with four additional counts related to alleged sex abuse at a Ponchatoula church.|
Austin Aaron Bernard was booked Monday with two counts of aggravated rape, one count of sexual battery and one count of incest, according to Detective Mike DePhillips.
The additional charges resulted from an examination of evidence seized at the now-defunct Hosanna Church. Tangipahoa Parish sheriff's deputies, FBI agents and officers with the Ponchatoula Police Department took part in the seizure.
Bernard, 36, was arrested May 18 on one count of aggravated rape of a juvenile under the age of 13.
Investigators said Bernard confessed that he had sexual relations with a juvenile in November 2002 and admitted to knowing about the ritual sexual abuse of children at the church.
Nine people, including Bernard, have been arrested in the case.
Bernard remains jailed without bond.
|Source: theneworleanschannel.com - June 13, 2005|
Update posted on Jun 13, 2005 - 7:10PM
- The Advocate - May 19, 2005 Associated Press via Yahoo News - May 20, 2005 National Catholic Reporter - May 20, 2005 New York Times - May 20, 2005 The Statesman - May 20, 2005 Hammond La News - June 7, 2005
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