A juror tasked with determining whether or not Word of Faith Fellowship minister Brooke Covington led a mob-style attack on a gay congregant found himself in trouble with the court. NBC News reported that 71-year-old Perry Shade Jr. received a 30-day jail sentence, as well as a $500 fine, for bringing outside documents into the jury's deliberation room, which he proceeded to share with other jurors.
Upon learning of Shade's actions, Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus declared a mistrial, before handing down the jury member's sentence.
"This juror has impaired the integrity and fairness of the trial … therefore I am removing this juror and declaring a mistrial. I instructed the jurors over and over again not to do research."Gavenues turned to Shade, declaring that the man was "in direct criminal contempt," and ordered the bailiff to arrest him.
According to the report, Matthew Fenner, the former Word of Faith Fellowship congregant at the center of the trial, appeared disappointed, but was prohibited from discussing the case. However, Fenner's friends and family members were not bound by the gag order, with many expressing their disappointment at how the trial ended.
One former Word of Faith Fellowship member, John Cooper, called the outcome "unfair," pointing out that Fenner had been waiting for justice for four years. Fenner's aunt, Linda Reider, said that his family and friends will encourage him to keep fighting for justice.Brooke Covington, who is a minister with the controversial church based out of Spindale, N.C., was on trial for kidnapping and assault. Covington was the first of five defendants to go on trial for the charges, as the state opted to try each defendant separately. If convicted, she would have faced two years in prison.
According to Fenner, Covington, along with a group of approximately 30 other members of the church, beat, punched, and tortured him in an attempt to exorcise him of "homosexual demons." The group also performed a practice called blasting, which involves ear-piercing screaming at the intended target. The alleged attack happened in January 2013.
Fenner's claims received a boost during the second day of the trial. Sarah Anderson, another former member of Word of Faith Fellowship, took to the witness stand to corroborate Matthew Fenner's claims. Anderson, who is one of the five defendants facing charges in the attack, decided to testify for the prosecution, against the advice of her attorney. According to the New York Daily News, Anderson did not cut a deal with the prosecution prior to taking the stand, which could explain her attorney's objection.
The 30-year-old admitted that she started the physical assault portion of the attack. According to Anderson, Brooke Covington stopped Matthew Fenner in the church's parking lot after an evening prayer service. After Covington screamed "Open your heart," Anderson confessed that she slapped Fenner in the face, which prompted the others to begin a full-fledged attack on the man.Anderson's testimony also shed light on corruption inside the church. Anderson said that Covington, along with two then-assistant district attorneys, attempted to coach her on any police statements that she might be asked to give regarding the attack.
According to WLOS News, Anderson testified that the church members were instructed by Frank Webster and Chris Back, who were assistant district attorneys for North Carolina's 25th Judicial District at the time, to tell police that nothing happened to Fenner.
After the Associated Press released a bombshell report about the church, featuring two years of investigative reporting, District Attorney David Learner decided to launch his own investigation into the two men.Learner cited the report, as well as charges of improper actions by the duo, when he asked the state to investigate the two men back in March. Within days of Learner's request, Webster and Back left their positions, the Charlotte Observer reported.
During closing arguments for Covington's trial, prosecutor Garland Byers proclaimed that Covington and the rest of the church members were "trying to scare [Fenner] straight, and I hate using that terminology," while Covington's attorney, David Teddy, said that Fenner had "requested" and "consented" to the blasting.
If believed, Anderson's testimony, along with the stunning rebuke of Webster and Back, might have been enough for the jury to find Brooke Covington guilty. However, the actions of Perry Slade Jr. means that Matthew Fenner will have to wait at least one more month for justice.
WLOS News reported that a new trial date has been set for Word of Faith Fellowship minister Brooke Covington. Covington's second trial for allegedly kidnapping and assaulting Matthew Fenner will begin on July 17.
What do you think? Have you ever heard of Word of Faith Fellowship Church? Do you believe that Brooke Covington ordered and participated in the attack on Matthew Fenner?
[Featured Image by Kathy Kmonicek/AP Images]