Summary of Events for the Matthew Fenner Case

One struggle I find in writing this blog for the last several years is making the ongoing story lines understandable for new readers. I have learned that readers may visit here for a time and move on to other interests. Weeks, or months later, they return and find it hard to take in the drama during their time away. That is one reason I made the “Quick Links” page. There certain posts are grouped by subject. Take time to visit that page as you can. Pages are listed between the most recent post and the banner at the top of the home page.

The post will recount the events surrounding the Matthew Fenner case. This was first posted in Portuguese and it caused some confusion. I apologize as that was not my intent. The purpose was to bring our new Brazilian readers up to speed on these events. Because of translating logistics, we did not explain the result of the disqualification hearing in that post, but we will in the near future as there will be more to add to the description of the continuing events. Thank you to our English readers for the understanding. Please, share this news with our friends in Brazil. I appreciate many who made me aware of the need to add this feature. So, excited to add Portuguese to this blog!

We will not have space to retell every detail; however we will review the pivotal events ending with the recent court events.

October 14, 2014- An Editorial appeared on the website outlining the struggles Matthew Fenner had in successfully filing assault charges against five Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) members. Matthew was told the charges were misdemeanors (lesser severity) and he needed to seek a magistrate for this. He went to the District Attorney who said he needed a report from the sheriff. He persisted until a deputy finally took his report. The editorial says Matthew had pictures from injuries after the assault and that he is a victim of a hate crime. The Rutherford County District Attorney at the time was Brad Greenway. Chris Francis was the sheriff. The events surrounding this struggle to obtain a report and an investigation spoke loudly at the time about the attitude of the officials involved. In closing the editorial, “This is a case to be watched. Not only do you have to be very clear on your civil rights, but also persistent with our current law enforcement and prosecutors… Thanks for doing the right thing even with the odds stacked against you.”

December 9, 2014,– “Members of Word of Faith Indicted”; The grand jury in Rutherford County indicted five members of the Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) on simple assault and second degree kidnapping charges Monday.” Those indicted were Sarah Covington Anderson 27, Adam Christopher Barkley, 25, Brooke Mc Fadden Covington, 56, Justin Brock Covington, 20, Robert Louis Walker, Jr. 26. Sarah A. was also indicted on inflicting personal injury by strangulation. The hearing was unusual in that defense witnesses were allowed to testify including Matthew’s mother. She testified against Matthew’s claims. Brad Greenway allowed this special procedure. In the November elections, Ted Bell won the position of District Attorney. He was sworn into office in January and this case soon took a different turn.

January 22, 2015, Jean Gordon of The Daily Courier reported the reindictment of the same five WOFF defendants. In a more conventional grand jury hearing requested by Ted Bell, the same people were indicted under the same charges and the same bonds. Bell was concerned about “some improprieties” in the grand jury session in December. He wanted “clean indictments.” His concerns were shared by many and his actions were applauded in some circles. The improprieties concerned “the judge and others making inquiries as to what was discussed.” (in the December grand jury session.) These typical Rutherford County backroom shenanigans have ended. There is a NEW District Attorney in town!

February 20, 2015, the reported the WOFF attorneys representing the five defendants in the Matthew Fenner case filed a change of venue request. Their purpose was to move the pending trial away from Rutherford County citing, “excessive, pervasive, and insidious publicity on a local, statewide and even a national level,” against the WOFF church. I was told the filing was 40 pages. Also included the documents from each defendant, “the defendant is a member of WOFF, a church that for nearly two decades has bene the subject of extraordinary persecution, hatred, bigotry and discrimination in the county, spurred by the Inside Edition tabloid news, local, national and international news media coverage, as well as continued social media postings.” Now, it is reported that Adam Bartley is NOT a member of WOFF. The arguments for this motion are set for September 21, 2015. Very interesting.

April 2, 2015; reported on the first appearances of the five defendants in the Fenner case. Each defendant was sworn in and refused public counsel. The article points out that each defendant had a secured bond secured by real estate owned by WOFF. (This has become a conflict as we describe later in this post) Court date at this time was set for August to review the change of venue request. Judge Tommy Davis presided over this hearing.

April 6, 2015; Matthew Clark wrote an article for with the headline, “Jewish Leaders Pull Support of WOFF museum in Florida.” After the Jewish community leaders found out about the five indictments in the Matthew Fenner case, they contacted the director of the project in Florida and asked him to withdraw or postpone the event until after the trial. The director, Ron Shelton refused. With that, the Jewish leaders withdrew their support. In an open letter from the Brevard Jewish Community and Friends, Jewish leadership in the Brevard County, Florida community said they were taken aback by the recent charges against five members for allegedly committing simple assault and second degree kidnapping in the case involving former members, Matthew Fenner. “In its letter, the Jewish leaders said they support “the children that have created this Holocaust exhibit and did not suggest anyone not attend the exhibit.” The rift caused by Mr. Shelton still divides the local community to this day.

July 31, 2015, reported the State of North Carolina issued a subpoena to Ray Farmer of WOFF for video, DVD, CD, videotapes from January 26th, 27th and 28th 2013. Also, audio, video DVD or CD;s from July 1st to July 31, 2015 and all files, audio, video papers, photographs or any other media with Richard Matther Fenner, III.

In court on August 3, 2015- a motion to quash the subpoena was argued and the subpoena was upheld. Tomblin, Farmer and Morris hired attorney, John Gresham to represent then in this presentation. Josh Farmer added his arguments as well. It was colorful to say the least. Ray Farmer and Karel Reynolds testimony included naming Rafael Pagan as the only other individual to be involved with the videos. What about Brenda Davis, Logan Welch and Caleb Farmer??? Ray said the taping records over itself every three to four days. Karel said she did not believe there is any recording of the incident involving Matthew. They both agreed it would take two weeks to get all of this material together. The turnover of this evidence is set for August 17th. This was a big step forward in the case.

Also argued in very robust fashion was the State’s motion to disqualify every attorney with Tomblin, Farmer and Morris from representing any of the five defendants. Assistant District Attorney Garland Byers argued for the State citing several conflicts of interest and he explained the non-waiveable concurrent conflict in the present representation.

Attorney John Byrd was called as an expert in the matter. He cautioned “It could look possible to be without any conflict to any defense attorney. However, I’ve never seen a jury trial where something unexpected did not happen.” He was not in favor of an attorney representing more than one defendant in the same trial, though he admitted he had done it is a “very few” cases.

The disqualification motion stemmed from the State offering Adam Bartley a plea bargain in order to avoid jail time. He would plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for truthful testimony about the incidents in January 2013. Josh Farmer refused to present the plea and Byers felt compelled to protect the rights of the defendants on behalf of the State in spite of Farmer’s counsel or non-counsel as it were.

Josh Farmer stood against Judge Marvin Pope’s questions surrounding two scenarios he put forth in which Pope easily could see conflicts in the coming trial. In typical Farmer fashion, Josh presented case law for dual representation, one document he said included advice to use “common sense” in determining if dual representation of multiple clients was prudent.

Byers closed by reminding the Judge of the conflict in the secured property bonds underwritten with property owned by WOFF. Josh ended the day by telling everyone in the courtroom he was not a paid employee of WOFF and was not the in-house counsel and did not represent WOFF. By the time he uttered those words, everyone seemed too tired to challenge him. His statements went into the court records in contrast to the mountain of video showing him speaking for WOFF- time after time.

Also, brought out in Monday’s hearing; Adam Bartley has secured separate counsel and Robert Lewis Walker, Jr. was counseled by Josh to do the same by the end of the week. Josh made this clear when arguing there were no conflicts with representing all five defendants. Bartley’s attorney, Robert Denton, was present on Monday, though he admitted he had only agreed to take the case just before the hearing started. He is from Morganton where Frank Webster serves as Assistant District Attorney.

This leaves only Brooke Covington, Justin Covington and Sarah Anderson represented by Tomblin, Farmer and Morris. Byers pointed out one conflict with Farmer representing ANY of the five is the unfair advantage he obtained by first representing Bartley and Walker. The privileged knowledge gained form that interaction made for a conflicted unequal position for the new counsel obtained by Bartley and Walker. This matter could undermine the defense of Walker and Bartley.

Monday, August 3rd was a long day in court for many. On Thursday, August 6th, Judge Marvin Pope ruled in favor of the State. We explained that ruling in the previous post. A disqualification is not a sanction or a discipline action by the State. It is solely to protect the parties involved and avoid conflicts which could derail the trial process in the future. As a service to our readers, we are providing a copy of that ORDER.(use the BACK ARROW to return to the blog)

ORDER Granting Disqualification

Look for more updates soon on the continuing saga surrounding WOFF, their members and the survivors. Judge Pope requested the District Attorney to set a court date in which to advise the defendants on their rights to counsel. We are looking for that date to be announced.

Follow this blog on Twitter- @religiouscults

Thank you, for taking time to visit and read this blog. Please, consume the information on this site responsibly. The author is not a licensed mental health professional and encourages those that need professional help to seek it. The intent of the material is to inform and be a resource. Be sure to tell every member that you know at WOFF about this blog. There are readers at WOFF. Jane told me and Josh confirmed it.

Comments are invited from all readers, including present or former members. Polls are not scientific and no private information is gathered.
Look on the right side of any post for the option to subscribe by email for notifications or RSS feeds notifying of new postings. It is a great feature. Also, find more posts by selecting “Categories”.

Guest posts reflect the opinions of the writers. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of John Huddle or any other persons affiliated with this blog.

Please, take time to read the Terms of Use for this personal blog. As mentioned, for posts written by John Huddle, any information about WOFF is from his memories and recollections as perfect as that may be or not be.

Scripture references are Amplified Version unless otherwise noted. (Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 531

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 thoughts on “Summary of Events for the Matthew Fenner Case”

  1. Thank you for your webpage. I was in a WOF cult for 15 years, and it was awful. Although I choose not to tell my story to many, I still like to read stories about others who have been through what I have.

    I hope you keep writing & helping others.
    Alexandria, VA

  2. FitGirl,

    Thank you, for reading and taking time to voice your support of the efforts here. Keep reading, there is much more yet to come. Soon, I will release my book- Locked in. The book tells of my time in this group.

    John Huddle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *