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The Associated Press, 14 March 2000
Leader at religious compound acquitted in alleged assault on youth
By Jay Reeves
LIVINGSTON, Ala. (AP) - A leader at a controversial religious compound was acquitted Monday of charges that he beat a 13-year-old boy with a paddle as punishment for scuffling with another youth.
Albert Lee Roberts, 48, charged with misdemeanor assault, admitted striking Derrick Wilson with a paddle as many as eight times. But Roberts said disciplining children is part of his job at the Holyland commune, where parents are not allowed to live with their children.
Roberts said he used restraint in whipping the boy, hitting him with only half-swings.
"He wouldn't have been able to take (full force blows)," said Roberts who weighs 240 pounds.
Sumter County District Judge Tammy Montgomery acquitted Roberts after hearing conflicting stories about what had happened at the compound in west Alabama near the Mississippi line. There was no jury.
Roberts left the courthouse without commenting.
Wilson testified that Roberts hit him repeatedly on Jan. 17 as two other youths held him on the ground. He said the whipping was prompted by a scuffle with another boy at the commune.
"He gave me about 10 licks. Then he said he was gonna give me five more. Then he said he was going to give me three more. Then he said two more," said the youth, whose family used to be members of the commune.
Roberts testified that he paddled Wilson only at direction of head deacon Martin Walker.
Walker, the boy's uncle, testified that parents who live at Holyland give officers the right to discipline their children. He said Wilson's mother, Geraldine Wilson, filed the assault charge eight days after the whipping and only after a radio was taken away from her children.
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