Juror Contempt Prompts Mistrial In Church Abuse Case
A judge held a juror in contempt and declared a mistrial Tuesday in the case of a North Carolina church minister charged in the beating a congregant who says he was attacked to expel his "homosexual demons."
Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus immediately sentenced the juror, Terry Shade Jr., to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Gavenus said the juror brought in three documents, including one related to North Carolina law, but it wasn't the right law pertaining to the charges in the case.
Gavenus said he had warned the jurors not to bring in outside material.
"You are under arrest," Gavenus said. "Get him out of here."
Brooke Covington, 58, a longtime minister at Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, faced up to two years in prison if convicted on charges of kidnapping and assaulting former member Matthew Fenner in January 2013.
Covington was the first of five church members to face trial in the case. Each defendant will be tried separately. Covington's trial began May 30.
It was not immediately clear when a new trial would take place. The judge ordered everyone involved in the case not to talk to reporters.
Fenner, 23, said he was leaving a prayer service Jan. 27, 2013, when nearly two dozen people surrounded him in the sanctuary. He said they slapped, punched, choked and blasted him — a church practice that involves intense screaming — for two hours as they tried to expel his "homosexual demons."
As part of an ongoing, two-year investigation into abuse of Word of Faith Fellowship congregants by church leaders, The Associated Press interviewed four former church members who said they witnessed Fenner's assault.
Earlier Tuesday, a man was charged with harassing the jurors.
Chad Metcalf, 35, was brought Gavenus in handcuffs after he allegedly told the jury in a hallway to reach a verdict. Deliberations had begun Monday.
"I take this very seriously," Gavenus told Metcalf.
The juror who was held in contempt was the same one who reported Metcalf's comment to the judge.
Gavenus said Metcalf could face 39 months in prison and set a $100,000 bond.
Metcalf's connection to the case, if any, was not immediately clear. Several former members of the church who were in the court room told The Associated Press they did not know or recognize him.
Court records show a man by the same name had a court date Tuesday morning on a charge of driving with a revoked license. It was not clear if he has an attorney, and calls to a telephone number listed for him were not answered.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Garland Byers said Fenner was held against his will and attacked.
"In the name of religion, you don't assault people. You don't get to hurt people. You don't get to confine people," he said.
"They were trying to scare him straight, and I hate using that terminology," Byers added.
Defense lawyer David Teddy countered that Fenner had been subjected to blasting before and had also participated in the form of prayer when it was used on others.
"He requested the prayer. He consented to the prayer. And I submit to you, he knew what was coming," Teddy told the jurors.
Teddy said Fenner wanted to punish the church for condemning his homosexuality.
"That is a cause, not a crime," he said.
Based on exclusive interviews with 43 former members, documents and secretly made recordings, the AP reported in February that Word of Faith Fellowship congregants were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to "purify" sinners by beating out devils.
Fenner said he joined the sect with his mother and brother in 2010. He said he fled after being attacked.
The AP's investigation also revealed that congregants were ordered by church leaders to lie to authorities investigating reports of abuse and that two assistant district attorneys and a veteran social worker were among those who coached congregants and their children on what to say to investigators. After the AP report, the prosecutors, including one who is a son-in-law of a church founder, left their jobs, and the social worker resigned.
The sect was founded in 1979 by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam, a former used car salesman. Under Jane Whaley's leadership, Word of Faith Fellowship grew from a handful of followers to its current congregation in North Carolina, and another nearly 2,000 members in churches in Brazil and Ghana. It also has affiliations in other countries. Whaley is not charged in this case.
Mohr reported from Jackson, Mississippi.
Read more of AP's investigation of the Word of Faith Fellowship here.
The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org