Monday, December 03, 2007

Witnesses Deny Abuse at Hosanna Church

Advocate Florida parishes bureau
Published: Dec 2, 2007

AMITE — Two of the three children Austin “Trey” Bernard III is accused of raping maintained on the witness stand Saturday that they never were abused.

The young men, now ages 17 and 21, and Trey Bernard’s now 7-year-old daughter are the three children who, in 2005, accused seven members of the now-defunct Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula of sexually abusing them.

The young girl is not expected to take the stand, but her mother previously has said the child maintains she was abused.

Trey Bernard, 39, of Hammond, is the first church member to go to trial in the 21st Judicial District Court in Amite on charges of aggravated rape of a 2-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy.

On the stand as a prosecution witness, the elder man said that at the time of the alleged sexual abuse, he was told by his mother, Robbin Lamonica, and Trey Bernard’s now ex-wife, Nicole Bernard, to write down the incidents of anal and oral sex forced on him by Trey Bernard and others as well as the abuse he witnessed of the girl and younger boy.

Robbin Lamonica awaits trial on charges of oral sexual battery. The young men’s father, Louis Lamonica, also awaits trial on charges of aggravated rape.

The elder brother testified that Nicole Bernard began to ask him about the abuse after her daughter became old enough to begin talking in early 2005.

“Nicole would say if this happened and you say it didn’t happen, you will go to jail,” the older man said. “If I even thought there was even a remote chance it happened, I said it did.”

The younger man said on the stand that he thinks Lois Mowbray, who was arrested in 2005 but never charged, directed his mother to make him write down the abuse incidents. He even said the women would suggest writing topics to the boys and let the boys fill in the details.

“My mom’s main focus was Dad,” the younger man said. “Then, it’s like, ‘let’s put Trey in there.’”

The older boy did not mention the presence of Mowbray.

While each of the men was on the stand, Assistant District Attorney Don Wall spent more than hour asking them to verify statements they made to numerous people complaining that they were victims of sexual abuse.

The older man verified all the past statements he made to his psychologist, a forensic pediatrician, a social worker with the state Office of Community Services in Livingston, an interviewer with the Child Advocacy Center in Livingston and various law enforcement personnel.

The younger man said he remembered talking about the rape but did not recall some details related to the abuse or some of the people he had told.

In a series of direct questions from Wall, the older man related that he began to recant the abuse allegations after both of his parents were jailed in connection with the Hosanna Church investigation and he had to live with his grandfather.

“I’m saying now it didn’t happen,” the older boy testified of the alleged sexual molestation.

Wall also asked the older man to explain how much it costs his parents to be out of jail.

The older man said each of his parents pays a $300 monthly fee for the electronic monitoring that allows them to live at home.

“If they didn’t have to do that, they could buy you a car,” Wall quipped.

Wall didn’t press the younger man, who testified he has been living in a mental institution since September, as hard as he did the older one.

However, the teenager also admitted he began to recant his accusations of sexual abuse after both of his parents were arrested and he moved in with a grandmother he hadn’t seen in seven years.

Wall also had the men admit that in order to say on the witness stands at the upcoming trials of their parents that their parents never abused them, they must first say Trey Bernard never abused them.

“And the six or eight times you told all these other people, that is just a lie?” Wall asked.

“Basically,” the younger man responded.

After each man’s testimony, Wall had their journals, detailing their alleged abuse, made available for examination by the jury.

The jurors read each journal for about a half-hour each in court.

Copies of those journals were provided to The Advocate upon request.

The young men’s journals contained nearly identical information. They wrote that Trey Bernard and others forced them to have anal and oral sex. They also wrote they witnessed acts of anal, oral and vaginal rape of Trey Bernard’s daughter.

In an interview outside of the courtroom, Bernard’s attorney said he thought the men’s testimony went well for his client.

“I am pleased with the testimony,” defense attorney Al Bensabat said. “Obviously it bolsters our theory of the case which you will find out Monday.”

The state is expected to rest Monday morning. Bensabat said he will call at least three witnesses, including Trey Bernard on Monday.

State District Judge Doug Hughes told members of the jury Saturday that he thinks the case will be given to them for a verdict on Monday as well.

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