Man charged with harassing jury in gay beating trial
RUTHERFORDTON, N.C. (AP) — A man was charged Tuesday with harassing the jurors deliberating in the trial of a North Carolina minister accused of beating a congregant to expel his "homosexual demons."
The man allegedly told the jurors in a hallway that they needed to reach a verdict. Deliberations began Monday and resumed Tuesday morning.
The man was brought before Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus in handcuffs.
"I take this very seriously," Gavenus told the man.
Gavenus said the man could face 39 months in prison and set a $100,000 bond.
The man's connection to the case, if any, was not immediately clear.
Meanwhile, the jurors told Gavenus they were having a hard time reaching a verdict in the case. He instructed them to keep deliberating.
Brooke Covington, 58, a longtime minister at Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, is accused of leading the 2013 beating to expel Fenner's "homosexual demons."
If convicted, Covington faces two years in prison. Four others will be tried separately.
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.
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."
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 also said there were inconsistencies in other witnesses' testimony and a lack of evidence, like photographs of Fenner's injuries.
Teddy said Fenner wanted to punish the church for condemning his homosexuality.
"That is a cause, not a crime," he said.
As part of an ongoing, two-year investigation into abuse of Word of Faith Fellowship congregants by church leaders, The Associated Press interviewed four ex-church members who said they witnessed Fenner's assault.
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.
By Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr. Copyright Associated Press.
The Gayly - 6/6/2017 @ 11:27 a.m. CST