Trial begins for 1 of 5 accused of beating ex-WOFF church member

RUTHERFORD CO., NC (WSPA) – Nine men and five women have been selected as part of the jury in a trial connected to church abuse allegations.

Five members of Word of Faith Fellowship were charged in 2015 after a former member claimed he was attacked for being gay.

The church disputes the former members’ claims, as well as allegations of abuse that others say they endured.

Many jurors were excused for their knowledge of the church, some even calling it a “crazy cult.”

Justin Covington, 20, Brooke Covington, 56, and Adam Bartley, 25, all of Rutherfordton, along with Robert Walker Jr., 26, of Spindale, were indicted on charges of second-degree kidnapping and simple assault.

Sarah Covington Anderson, 27, of Rutherfordton, faces the same charge and one count of assault inflicting physical injury by strangulation.

Deputies say the victim was beaten because he was gay.

Matthew Fenner said he was attacked in 2013 and claimed he was berated, pushed, and told he was disgusting to try and break him free of homosexual demons.

Fenner is one of several former church members to claim they were abused. More than 40 former people told the Associated Press that they endured physical abuse to “purify” their sins. Some allege they were sexually abused and that minors were cut off from their families for years after they were placed in ministers’ homes.

The prosecutor says evidence and a testimony will show that Matthew was confronted about his lifestyle and was held down and beaten because he was “unclean.”

On the witness stand, Matthew Fenner said that, on January 27, 2013, he was “blasted” by prayer three times for more than two hours. He said this included being punched, pushed, and tossed around.

Church leaders have denied the accusations.

The defense says Fenner came back to the defendant’s home and spent the night two nights in a row and then left. They say evidence will show he wanted the “prayer,” and that it was a prayer, not a beating.

Court recessed Thursday afternoon after Fenner was examined and cross-examined on the stand.

Fenner stated on the stand that Rutherford County Sheriff’s deputies were not doing their job after it took a year and a half for an assault report to be filed.

A motion will be heard Friday at 9:00am about co-defendant and witness Sarah Anderson, who is accused of strangling Fenner during the “blasting.”

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