RUTHERFORDTON — Two people have been sent to jail during the trial of North Carolina church minister charged in the beating of a gay congregant, but neither was on trial in the case.
The jury was in its second day of deliberations Tuesday in the trial of Brooke Covington, 58, a longtime minister at Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, when juror Perry Shade Jr. reported being harassed by someone in the hallway.
Chad Metcalf, 35, who had a court hearing Tuesday for an unrelated traffic violation, was charged with harassing a juror. The judge said Metcalf told the jurors they needed to reach a verdict.
Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus jailed Metcalf on a $100,000 bond. He faces more than three years in prison, if convicted.
Rhonda Johnson, who said she is Metcalf’s mother, told The Associated Press in a message that her son was probably joking and meant no harm. She also said he is not affiliated in any way with Word of Faith Fellowship.
Johnson said it was “absolutely crazy for them to do this” to her son because he didn’t know not to talk to jurors.
Only hours after Metcalf’s arrest, Shade, 71, was standing before the judge in handcuffs, charged with contempt of court for distributing unauthorized outside material to other jurors.
“Thirty days in jail and $500 fine. You are under arrest. Get him out of here,” Gavenus said.
Gavenus then declared a mistrial. The judge said he wasn’t sure when a new trial would be scheduled.
Covington was the first of five church members to face trial in the case. Each defendant will be tried separately. Covington faced up to two years in prison if convicted on charges of kidnapping and assaulting former member Matthew Fenner in January 2013.
During jury selection last week, Shade said Covington’s lawyer, David Teddy, once represented him in a case, but he didn’t elaborate. Prosecutors and Teddy allowed Shade to be on the jury.
Some 4½ years after he says he was assaulted in the church, Fenner finds himself waiting again for the law to respond.
Prosecutors and witnesses were prohibited by a judge’s order from discussing the case, but Fenner’s friends and family were quick to do so.
“He’s disgusted at the jury,” said Linda Reider, Fenner’s aunt. “It took a lot of courage for him to come forward in the first place. There were so many road blocks put in place. Now this. But his family and friends will stick behind him. We won’t give up.”
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, AP interviewed four former church members who said they witnessed Fenner’s assault.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Garland Byers said Fenner was attacked in the “name of religion.”
“They were trying to scare him straight, and I hate using that terminology,” Byers added.
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.
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.
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report. Mohr reported from Jackson, Mississippi.
Read more of AP’s investigation of the Word of Faith Fellowship at http://apne.ws/2lmuzDA