Court Reduces Punitive Damages in Alamo Case

     (CN) – The 8th Circuit on Tuesday reduced the punitive damages evangelist Tony Alamo must pay for directing the beating of two boys in his religious sect, cutting the award from $60 million to $24 million.     
     A jury awarded each of the victims $3 million in actual damages and $30 million in punitive damages after finding Bernie Lazar Hoffman, better known as Tony Alamo, liable for battery, outrage and conspiracy for orchestrating the beatings.
     The two men had claimed they were abused as children growing up in Alamo’s religious sect, the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.
     Alamo is serving 175 years in prison for taking young girls across state lines for sex, a conviction the 8th Circuit upheld in December 2010.
     The federal appeals court in St. Louis on Tuesday said the $3 million compensatory damage award for each victim in the battery case was appropriate.
     “Alamo orchestrated and supervised the beatings in both cases, justifying the compensatory damages awarded against him,” Circuit Judge Duane Benton wrote for the three-judge panel.
     The abuse included ritualistic and savage beatings, forced unpaid labor, denial of food and formal education, total isolation from the outside world, and threats of damnation if they tried to escape, according to the ruling.
     However, the court found the $30 million punitive damages award for each victim excessive.
     “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,” Benton wrote.
     “[T]he punitive damages should not exceed a 4:1 ratio to maintain the notions of fundamental fairness and due process. Punitive damages of $12 million for each plaintiff are sufficient to achieve proper punishment and to deter similar reprehensible violence against children in the future,” Benton concluded.
     The court promptly rejected Alamo’s claim that his constitutional right to exercise his religion freely shielded him from liability.
     “If a religious practice physically injures others, the state has the power to prevent or punish the acts,” Benton wrote.

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