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story.lead_photo.caption David Jerome Keener

Trial began Monday at the Miller County courthouse in the case of a California pastor accused of molesting a female relative when she was a child.

David Jerome Keener, 36, denies he is guilty of three counts of rape involving a child under 14. If convicted, he faces 25 to 40 years or life in prison on each count.

The alleged victim, now 28, testified Monday afternoon under questioning from Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Connie Mitchell that she often spent time at the home of Keener's parents in Texarkana, Ark. On summer mornings, her parents would drop her off early on their way to work and the two families were often at Keener's family's home between Sunday morning and evening church services for many years.

The woman testified that she was about 9 when she was sleeping on the floor in a back bedroom and Keener told her she could get in the bed. She said she felt Keener's lips on her ear as he whispered, "Don't tell anyone what I'm about to do to you."

"I held my face or buried my face in the couch," the alleged victim testified of how she coped with the pain she experienced when she was assaulted.

The woman testified that Keener sodomized her in his family's home up to several times weekly from approximately age 9 to shortly before she turned 13. Keener is nine years older than the alleged victim and would have been approximately 18 when she was 9.

The woman said Keener began preaching at a local Baptist church when he was about 17 and was pastoring when the alleged sexual abuse began. She testified that about a week before her 13th birthday, she told Keener she would scream if he touched her and that she didn't care anymore if she got in trouble as she said he told her she would if she told anyone. The woman said that fear of the "strict" relative who babysat her and fear of splitting her family apart led her to keep silent about the abuse.

Fayetteville, Ark., lawyer Brandon Pickett pressed the alleged victim about when the alleged abuse occurred. The woman testified that two other young girls were sleeping on the floor the first time Keener abused her and that adult family members were in the front of the house visiting when Keener would abuse her in rooms in the back of the house. Pickett questioned the woman regarding her claim that Keener would be relegated to the back of the house with the children rather than in the front socializing and playing dominoes with the adults.

The alleged victim testified that when she was in high school at approximately age 16, she confided in a boyfriend about what had happened to her. The former boyfriend testified Monday under questioning by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kristian Robertson. The former boyfriend said he encouraged the alleged victim to tell her parents but that he believes she eventually told a close female relative who was then in her 20s and is 14 years older than the alleged victim.

The female relative testified that the alleged victim disclosed the abuse to her in approximately 2006 and gave her permission to tell the alleged victim's mother, which she did.

"I felt like my insides had been torn out. That's how I felt," the alleged victim's mother testified.

The mother said she was present when her daughter received a call from Keener that she listened to on speaker phone in approximately 2008. The mother said Keener apologized to the alleged victim and said he didn't want to begin his marriage without the alleged victim's forgiveness.

The alleged victim testified she told a female youth minister at church about the abuse and was admonished to keep quiet because "he was a man of God."

The mother testified that it was not until 2017 that the alleged victim's father was told of the allegations.

Neither the former boyfriend, the older female relative nor the alleged victim's parents contacted law enforcement at the time. The alleged victim's mother testified that the alleged abuse remained a secret out of concern for what it would do to relationships within the extended family and lamented that since the allegations became public, "it has split the family apart."

The mother and the older female relative testified that the alleged victim's worsening symptoms of depression led them to push her to seek counseling. The alleged victim, who no longer lives in the Texarkana area, said that she began seeking counseling in late 2016. In March 2018, she contacted the Texarkana, Ark., Police Department and arranged to meet with Detective David Parker. The alleged victim was in Texarkana for a family member's funeral when she met with Parker.

Parker testified that after meeting with the alleged victim, he acquired a warrant for Keener's arrest. Pickett questioned Parker at length about his investigation of the case, intimating that it was incomplete.

In opening arguments Monday afternoon, Mitchell said the alleged victim was taught to "respect someone in the church, respect someone who is sharing the word of God."

Pickett argued that the case stems from "family jealousy fueled by a desire to hurt" and described it as "family drama."

The jury of seven men and five women was given instructions by Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson to return to the Miller County courthouse this morning to continue hearing testimony in the case.