By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist pastor was sentenced to five years in prison Feb. 28 after a jury in Texarkana, Ark., found him guilty of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old girl inside his church last April.
South Texarkana Baptist Church pastor Travis Payne, 67, was arrested in June and charged with second-degree sexual assault after a woman visiting the church told police that she caught him in the act of inappropriately touching the child a few minutes before the start of a church revival service on April 25.
“I was in shock. How could he do that in God’s house?” star witness Miriam Spiros said, according to trial coverage by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Spiros was visiting the church because her husband, Philip, music minister at Macedonia First Baptist Church in Fouke, Ark., was invited as a guest to sing at South Texarkana’s revival. She said she left the sanctuary a few minutes before the service for a quick trip to the restroom and happened to witness the crime.
Prosecutors said eyewitness testimony is rare in sexual-assault cases and thanked the woman for speaking up for a victim who is unable to defend herself. David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the Spiros couple are “heroes” and that kids are safer because of their courage.
Payne denied encountering Spiros at the church and claimed that he did not sexually abuse the child.
“This horrific case should remind all of us that suspected child sex crimes should be reported to the independent professionals in law enforcement, not the biased amateurs in church offices,” Clohessy said.