The woman, now 30, said she was a third-generation Alamo follower into adulthood – until the Arkansas-based pastor took an 8-year-old as his latest bride. At one point, the woman said, Alamo told her graphically how he fondled the girl as she held a stuffed animal – and she raised concerns about his actions.
“He told me to shut up and that I shouldn’t question what ‘the Lord told me to do,”‘ the woman said.
Federal prosecutors accuse Alamo, 74, of transporting five girls across state lines for sex between 1994 and 2005. The woman who testified on Wednesday said she travelled to California, Tennessee and West Virginia when she was underage to be available to Alamo.
Defence lawyers said in their opening statement on Tuesday that girls crisscrossed the country while working for the ministry. Chores for a “bona fide religious group” were not a federal offence, they said.
On the stand on Wednesday, the 30-year-old woman said she was married to Alamo at age 15 after he rejected a request from a boy her same age to marry her. She said Alamo told her family that the Lord had told him to take her as his wife, and that she feared her she and her relatives would be shunned if she did not submit.
“We didn’t have anywhere to go,” said the woman, whose parents and grandparents were also Alamo followers.
After she agreed, the witness said, Alamo took her hand asked if she would take him as her lawfully wedded husband. He kissed her on the forehead and, three days later, had sex with her for the first time.
The “marriage” took place at Alamo’s compound but was not formally registered with the state. The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
Defence lawyers say the government has targeted the ministry for prosecution and Alamo says the trial is part of a Vatican-led conspiracy against him. “This investigation, this prosecution was fuelled by prejudice the government and law enforcement have against Tony Alamo’s church because of its practices,” said Don Ervin, who is leading Alamo’s defence team.
Alamo previously served four years in prison on a tax evasion charge after the IRS said he owed $7.9m. Prosecutors allege that some girls were brought to Alamo for sex while he was awaiting the 1994 trial.
Wednesday’s first witness said how often Alamo would schedule sex with his female followers varied on where he was and how many were with him when he was travelling. When Alamo was arrested in Arizona last September to face the sex-crime charges, federal agents said he had several women travelling with him, none of whom were minors.
If convicted in the current trial, Alamo faces 10 years in prison and a $250 000 fine on each count. He is being held without bond until the end of his trial.