Pastor’s child sex abuse trial begins in Miller County

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A man who was affiliated with a church in Fresno, Calif., as a pastor at the time he was charged with rape in Miller County, Ark., and who once served as a guest pastor at a Baptist church in the Texarkana area is on trial this week for allegedly abusing a young female relative years ago.

David Jerome Keener, 38, is accused of repeatedly sodomizing a female relative at his family’s home beginning when she was 9 and ending when she was approximately 12 or 13. Keener is nine years older than the alleged victim, who reported the allegations to Texarkana, Ark., police in March 2018.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Connie Mitchell told the jury of seven men and five women in opening statements that despite telling at least four people beginning when the alleged victim was in high school, law enforcement was not contacted because of concern for what it would do to a large extended family and the accused, “a man of God.”

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Fayetteville, Ark., attorney Brandon Pickett argued that the alleged victim is motivated to make false allegations because of jealousy and family drama.

The alleged victim, now 28, testified that she often was dropped off during the summer months at Keener’s house while her parents were working and that her family and Keener’s family spent many Sundays together between morning and evening services at a Baptist Church in Nash, Texas, near Texarkana.

The alleged victim testified that when she was 9, she was sleeping on the floor of Keener’s bedroom with two other girls when Keener told her she could sleep in the bed. She said she heard Keener whisper, “Don’t tell anybody what I’m about to do to you,” before he sodomized her for the first of countless times. The alleged victim said she blacked out and that during future encounters she would “hold my breath or bury my face in the pillow,” to deal with the immense pain she felt.

The alleged victim testified under questioning from Mitchell that Keener began preaching at their church when he was 17 or 18 and that he was actively preaching at the time the alleged sexual abuse began. The alleged victim said she was afraid as a child that she would get in trouble if anyone learned of the abuse and that later she feared exposing Keener would tear her family apart.

She said she was also warned by a female youth minister who she told to “shut your mouth, you can’t tell anybody about that because he is a man of God.”

The alleged victim told a high school boyfriend about the abuse when she was approximately 16, she testified. The former boyfriend testified under questioning by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kristian Robertson that he encouraged the girl to tell her parents but that she agreed to tell an older female family member instead.

The older family member testified that the alleged victim called her in tears and told her in general terms that Keener had sexually abused her. She said she urged the then teen girl to tell her mother and that when the alleged victim said she could not, they agreed the older relative would.

The alleged victim’s mother said she waited a few days after learning of the allegations before asking her daughter about them in approximately 2006. She said they did not tell her father or others because of fear of what it would do to the family.

The alleged victim said she began to suffer from severe, debilitating depression as the years went by and sought counseling in late 2016. She said that she developed the courage to come forward and contacted the Texarkana, Ark., Police Department in March 2018 with the support of her counselor.

Pickett questioned how the abuse could have occurred as many times as alleged without anyone in the house suspecting.

Testimony is expected to continue Tuesday morning before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson at the Miller County courthouse. Keener is charged with three counts of rape involving a child under age 14. If found guilty, Keener faces 25 to 40 years or life in prison on each count.

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