By Don Ellzey
Friday, November 30, 2007 11:31 AM CST
AMITE - An FBI agent testified Thursday that Trey Bernard said in an interview that when he first began changing his infant daughter's diapers, his hands would start shaking.
Bernard said he knew he would likely lose control, and he did, special agent Joseph Edwards testified.
Edwards was a witness for the prosecution in the trial of Austin “Trey” Bernard III, 39, of Hammond. Bernard is charged with the aggravated rape of a 2-year-old girl, his daughter, in the Hosanna Church child sex case. The now-defunct church was located off U.S. 51 between Hammond and Ponchatoula and was the site of alleged occult activities and child sex.
Edwards was the fifth witness called by the prosecution since testimony in the trial began Tuesday.
In an interview with Bernard at the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office Substation on June 10, 2005, Edwards said he was told by Bernard that during the diaper changes he began touching his infant daughter. The touching became oral sex and eventually penetration.
Edwards said Bernard claimed to have been molested as a child, which led him to molest children.
Federal prosecutor Lisa Marie Freitas, now with the Child Exploitation Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, was a special agent assigned to the FBI's New Orleans office in 2005.
Freitas testified that she, too, interviewed Bernard, who told her that he had done with his daughter everything a human could do to the body of another human. Much of the abuse occurred while his wife, Nicole Bernard, was working.
She said Bernard told her that he was the first to penetrate his daughter and Louis Lamonica was the second.
She said Bernard described the rituals at the church, although the rituals were not the point of the FBI investigation. Freitas said he volunteered the information.
According to Bernard, the rituals took place in what was called “the room,” which was the church's youth room. He described how six adults would line up shoulder to shoulder and perform sex acts on his daughter or other children, who were passed down the line. The rule was that there would be no penetration or injury.
The rituals had a Satanic theme, including a Pentagram, the use of animals and animal parts such as chicken feet and the use of animal blood.
Freitas said that according to Bernard, Patricia Pierson and Robin Lamonica, two defendants in the case, put animal blood on his daughter during one of the rites. She said Bernard claimed Pierson and Lamonica also sexually abused his daughter.
He said animal blood was also put on other children, Freitas said.
She said she and other FBI agents got a search warrant for the church. Bernard served as a guide, pointing out what the different rooms and areas were used for. Freitas said nothing was in the sanctuary - no pews, no chairs, just a large, empty room.
The youth room was pitch black when the lights were out, she said, but the room was equipped with a black light. When Bernard turned it on, the light revealed writings on the walls from ceiling to floor.
“Every inch, from top to bottom, was writing,” Freitas said.
The writing consisted of songs, lyrics and Biblical verses. Some of the words were inverted or changed, she said.
Using a special chemical, a search team found signs of body fluids all over the carpet, she said. Pieces of the carpet with fluid spots were cut out for evidence.
Freitas testified that federal search warrants were issued for the residence of Chris Labat, one of the seven defendants. Agents met with sheriff's deputies to execute the warrant because Labat was a deputy. The search provided several pieces of evidence, including a computer but nothing that related directly to Bernard.
An interview with Louis Lamonica, another defendant in the case, along with his comments to the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office, pointed to a church group, Freitas said. Law enforcement agents then began making arrests.
Lamonica, the former pastor of Hosanna Church, turned himself in to the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office before Bernard's arrest.
Tangipahoa Parish Detective Mike DePhillip said authorities learned on May 19, 2005, that Bernard was allegedly involved with the Hosanna group, Freitas said. But according to DePhillips, Bernard wanted to speak with FBI agents because some have a background in psychology.
The interview took place June 10, 2005, at the sheriff's substation in Hammond, she said. Freitas and Edwards said Bernard was fully informed of his rights and was advised that he had the right to an attorney. He declined the offer of an attorney and signed the federal form showing he had been advised of his rights.
The interview was not taped because agents did not have permission from the regional FBI office to use a tape recorder or video device, she said.
“The first thing he wanted to know was why things happen the way they do,” Freitas told the court.
She said the agents told him they only wanted to know what he had witnessed.
Bernard said, “Things just happen that way,” she said.
She said he claimed to have been sexually abused as child by his mother. He said he and his wife, Nicole, had a Christian background and he had felt she could “keep him straight.” But he said he had been in a homosexual relationship with Louis Lamonica.
Freitas said that according to Bernard, the group started under the leadership of Lamonica. Lamonica had full control at the church, and it was not long before most members left, including the youth pastor. Bernard replaced him. She said it was Bernard's job to bring the young people to a certain level of sexual behavior and to gauge how they reacted to sexual contact by an adult. About 10 children were in the youth group.
Bernard told the interviewers that the Lamonicas' two sons had been sexually abused by their father from a very young age. Their parents had trained them to lie and they were very good at it, Freitas said, quoting Bernard.
She said she does not feel Bernard sought counseling from anyone outside the church.
Freitas said that according to Bernard, Lois Mowbray was a church member of the church who learned of the sexual abuse but did not report it. Bernard claimed the group used no alcohol or drugs. She said Bernard said he last abused his daughter about two years before his arrest.
Al Bensabat, Bernard's attorney, noted that the federal search warrant was for Labat's residence, not Bernard's. Bensabat said Bernard's wife was present for some of the rituals and that law enforcement agents could not verify the events that Freitas had described.
Responding to a question from Bensabat, Freitas said FBI agents found no pentagram and no animal blood at the church.
According to Edwards, Bernard said he was not sure of some of the events and they may have been a fantasy, but he was very clear about the molestation of his daughter.
Edwards said Bernard thinks Mowbray told him to make a written account of all that had happened. That account, Bernard's diary, was given to the jury for review late Thursday. It is graphic and detailed as to some of the incidents.
The jury also heard the taped interview conducted with Bernard by sheriff's detectives DePhillips and Stuart Murphy shortly after his arrest.
Judge Doug Hughes announced after Thursday's court session that jurors should prepare for a half day of court on Saturday.