Trial Begins For Church Leader Who Led Brutal Assault Of A Gay Man [UPDATED]

Covington of the Word of Faith Fellowship Church is on trial for assaulting Fenner

UPDATE [June 6, 2017 @ 4:30 PM ET]

Local ABC Affiliate WLOS reported today a mistrial has been declared. They reported:

A juror was arrested and a mistrial declared in an assault trial involving a minister of Word of Faith Fellowship church.

Our reporter at the scene tell us the arrested juror is 71-year-old Perry Shade.

The judge cited the jury foreman’s misbehavior and immediately held the juror in contempt on Tuesday. Shade is sentenced him to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for bringing in unspecified outside materials

On a semi-related note, they added:

Earlier on Tuesday in a separate incident, a man was charged with harassing jurors deliberating in the trial of Brooke Covington.

CBS affiliate WSPA added context to story:

Court officials say A juror was doing his own research and looking up laws that had nothing to do with trial and passed it out to other jurors.

The juror, Perry Shade, is also accused of creating a list of questions that was passed out to the jury.

ABC 11 also added:

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.

It’s not immediately clear when the trial will be rescheduled for.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Four years ago, several members of the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Rutherford County, North Carolina reportedly confronted a fellow congregant for having “some kind of sexual sin or thought.” They kidnapped, tortured, and nearly killed the man after several hours of relentless violence. Five of those church members were arrested in 2014 and one – the church’s leader – just began standing trial for the indictments related to that 2013 incident.

The AP reported:

One of five people charged with beating a fellow church member to expel what they called “homosexual demons” says church leaders asked everyone at the attack to tell investigators that nothing happened.

Sarah Anderson testified Friday that she told other leaders at Word of Faith Fellowship she thought Matthew Fenner was unclean and sinful. Anderson also testified that Covington began the confrontation by screaming at Fenner after a January 2013 service at the church in Spindale, North Carolina.

That church member – one of the five arrested in 2014 for the crime committed against Mathew Fenner – testified against the head of the church: Minister Brooke Covington.

When we originally reported on the assault, we noted Fenner’s statement about the incident.

“I honestly thought I was going to die,” he said. He explained how the church members held him down, strangled him, and physically beat him because of his sexual orientation. “My head was like being flung back, my vision was going brown and black,” he continued. “I couldn’t breathe and I’m sitting here thinking if I don’t get out of this, I’m probably going to die.”

The New York Daily News additionally reported:

[Sarah Anderson] claimed Minister Brooke Covington, who is standing trial for kidnapping and assault, confronted the 23-year-old about his homosexual thoughts and that she started pushing Fenner’s chest, screaming “Open your heart!”

That’s when Anderson said she slapped Fenner in the face, with about 30 other members of the church joining in — beating, screaming at and choking the man for hours. Even after he admitted to having homosexual thoughts in a dream, the assault continued.

Fenner, who has since left the church, testified earlier this week that he thought he was “going to die” during the Jan. 2013 prayer session or what they call “blasting.”

“Blasting” is a cultish religious practice used by the Word of Faith Fellowship church to ‘reign in’ fellow members. It’s been the subject of journalistic investigations for over 20 years for its assault and abuse potential though reporters couldn’t get congregants to maintain their story. Each time a congregant would describe the abuse they or someone they knew underwent, they would later recant and rejoin the church without further comment.

That pattern seems consistent in the testimony Anderson provided in describing the “coaching” she received from fellow church member to perjure herself on the stand,

New York Daily News added:

Anderson said she did not make a deal with prosecution and offered no reason for incriminating herself in the case. She left the church in February 2016 after accusing Covington and other church leaders of abusing her 1-year-old son.

Her attorney attempted to keep her from taking the stand, explaining that she did not understand the legal consequences she was opening herself up to. While she was testifying as the state’s witness on Friday, she has been charged with kidnapping, assault by strangulation and simple assault in a separate case, according to the news station.

The Fenner case isn’t the first time this particular church has made national news. In both 2003 and 2011, separate but equally troubling incidents places Covington’s ministry under the microscope.

Local CBS affiliate WSPA reported in 2014:

We did some digging and this isn’t the first time an accusation like this was made.

In 2011, a young man said he was held against his will by the church for months because he was gay. He later recanted.

In 2003, the church was involved in a custody dispute between a former church member and the same Brooke Covington accused today.

Reports show the mother gave Covington temporary custody, but in October of 2003 those children were ordered removed from the home after a district court found the environment abusive.

Two daughters went back to the church after an appeals court tossed out the ruling.

If convicted, Covington faces two years in prison.

Here’s a local WSPA report from earlier this year on the case including an interview with two of the 43 congregants that spoke with the grand jury that indicted the five church members for assaulting Fenner:

PREVIOUSLY

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he's worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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