Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hosanna Church Member Guilty

The verdict is in—Trey Bernard is guilty, and will spend life in prison without the chance of parole.

NOTE: All material about the Hosanna Church case is archived on the index page. Please post comments on that page only.

WWL TV (video clip)
Debra Lemoine's article is the most detailed, so I'm mirroring it in its entirety here:

Advocate Florida parishes bureau
Published: Dec 4, 2007 - Page: 1A

AMITE — A Tangipahoa Parish jury on Monday evening convicted Austin “Trey” Bernard III of three counts of aggravated rape for his role in the Hosanna Church sex abuse case.

The jurors voted unanimously to convict Bernard in the rape of his 2-year-old daughter. All but one found him guilty in the rape of a 12-year-old boy, 21st Judicial District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said.

The jury of eight women and four men deliberated two hours before reaching a decision.

Bernard faces a mandatory penalty of life in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 12. The District Attorney’s Office declined to seek the death penalty, which is a potential penalty, because of the age of the victims.

Bernard’s attorney, Al Bensabat, said after court that he had to overcome a mountain of evidence against Bernard.

Bernard, 39, of Hammond, is the first of the seven members of the now-defunct Ponchatoula church to go to trial after being indicted in 2005 in the rapes of children.

No trial date has been set for the remaining six suspects. Perrilloux said he anticipates bringing Louis Lamonica to trial in early 2008.

The verdict was greeted by two sobs, one from Bernard’s stepmother, Leslie Bernard, and the other from his ex-wife, Nicole Bernard.

Nicole Bernard, who was arrested but not charged in the case, said the verdict was just.

“I would like to thank the Lord Jesus Christ for justice for my daughter,” she said to reporters outside the courthouse. “I will never quit until the last six are brought to justice.”

Leslie Bernard, Bernard’s stepmother, said through tears on her way to her car that the verdict surprised her because three of Bernard’s alleged victims said they were never abused. One of the victims who recanted was Lamonica’s son, whom Bernard was convicted of raping when the boy was 12.

Trey Bernard said nothing in court after state District Judge Doug Hughes read the verdict. Deputies handcuffed him immediately and led him out a side door in the courtroom before the jury left the room.

In his closing arguments earlier Monday, prosecutor Don Wall described Trey Bernard as a situational abuser, a man who has the desire to molest children and will do so if given the opportunity.

Bernard had a sexual relationship with Lamonica, the 49-year-old Hosanna pastor, Wall said. Through that relationship, the men raped each other’s children, he said.

The rapes stopped in 2003, after Lamonica’s and Bernard’s wives threw them out of their houses and the men moved into the church, Wall told jurors. It wasn’t until the Bernards attempted to reconcile in late 2004 that their daughter began to speak of the abuse, Wall said.

In the meantime, Trey Bernard and others began writing how they abused the children in spiral notebooks. Two of Bernard’s victims also began writing about the abuse at the request of their mother.

“It’s like rats jumping off the sinking ship,” Wall told the jury. “Once it became known that this stuff was going on outside of the group, all of this became serious.”

Throughout the five days of testimony, Wall showed the jury Bernard’s writings, the two victims’ writings, videotaped statements from three children and statements from investigators outlining the three times Bernard confessed the abuse to authorities.

Two young men, one of whom Bernard was charged with raping, testified that Bernard never touched them. However, Wall got them to admit on the stand that their recantations began after both their parents were arrested.

The boys also admitted that they had to say that Bernard never touched them in order to be consistent when they testify at their parents’ trials.

In his closing argument, Wall read excerpts of a 211-page journal Bernard kept in which he outlined how he went from touching his daughter in the bathtub to raping her.

The jury had been allowed to read the journal during the trial.

A couple of jurors cried Monday while Wall read some of the more graphic details of the abuse.

When Bernard testified Monday, he maintained that his ex-wife concocted the rape stories in order to get sole custody of their daughter.

After voluntarily leaving the house, Bernard testified, he moved into the church, but never had sex with Lamonica.

However, over time, women at the church, including his wife, forced him to write that he raped his own daughter and Lamonica’s two sons, Bernard testified.

If he didn’t, his wife threatened to call police and make sure he would never see his daughter again, he said.

Bernard said that if he left the church, he felt he would lose everything, including his only child.

“If they had told me to write I was the Easter Bunny, I would to get out of that insane asylum,” Bernard testified.

Once, at the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office in May 2005, Bernard said he felt he had to confess to the detectives questioning him because of what he had already written.

“Once you start down that path, there is no way out of it,” Bernard testified.

Wall and Perrilloux said that they were pleased with the verdict.

“I never tried anything like it,” Wall said to reporters. “I don’t know anyone who has.”

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