KERRVILLE, Texas -- The wife of ranch foreman testified in a slavery-murder conspiracy trial that she was forced every morning to kiss the ranch owner's son as her husband watched and that the encounters led to rape.
'He (Walter Ellebracht Jr.) made me take my clothes off,' Sheri Hamilton said Tuesday outside the presence of the jury. 'He took off his clothes. He then made me have sex with him.'
Ellebracht Jr., 33, his father, Walter Wesley Ellebracht Sr., 55, and former ranch worker Carlton Robert Caldwell, 21, along with six others awaiting trial, are charged under the Texas organized crime statute with conspiracy to commit murder and aggravated kidnapping. A 10th defendant is charged with murder.
State District Judge Tom Blackwell ruled the jury would not be allowed to hear about the alleged sexual assault because it would place the younger Ellebracht on trial for an extraneous offense not alleged in the state's indictment against him.
'If I had allowed that testimony in,' the judge said in an interview, 'it would have led to an automatic reversal of a verdict in the case.'
Also Tuesday, the mother of the Alabama drifter allegedly tortured to death and cremated on the ranch wept on the witness stand as she identified a photograph of her son.
Joann Loftis told jurors her son, Anthony Bates, shot out his left eye in what police called a suicide attempt and said the event changed him from a 'bright, happy young man' to a drifter.
Loftis said her son left her a note in the summer of 1983 saying he was going to Texas, and she never again heard of him until authorities contacted her to say they believed he had been killed and his body cremated on the central Texas ranch near Kerrville in March of 1984.
The state alleges Bates was tortured to death over several days by tormentors who shocked him with a cattle prod, beat him and possibly sexually assaulted him.
Earlier in the trial, the prosecution presented several witnesses who told the court the Ellebracts picked them up as they hitchhiked though Texas and offered them jobs at the ranch.
Two of the men testified they were tortured, chained together and forced to dig trenches when they tried to leave.
Loftis told the court her son was a high school dropout who served in the Army and Marine Corps. Unable to keep a job, Bates drifted out to California then moved to Arizona, where he married and later divorced.
After returning to Alabama, Bates in 1980 shot himself in the head and lost his left eye in what Huntsville, Ala., police called a 'suicide attempt,' Loftis said.
'He changed from a bright, happy young man to slow,' she replied. 'He wasn't coordinated. He couldn't put things together that well.'