Fenner Case Update: 7 Jurors Seated, 7 more needed

The first of possibly five separate trials in the Matthew Fenner case in Rutherford County began on Tuesday. Today’s session involved the State vs. Brooke McFadden Covington. By 9:51AM, Judge Gary Gavenus let everyone in the court know the Motion for a Change of Venue was “Denied!” He intended to move forward with jury selection, twelve jurors and two alternates.

Mrs. Covington is one of five defendants who include Justin Covington, Sarah Covington Anderson, Robert Lewis Walker, Jr. and Adam Bartley. Indictments stemming from alleged incidents on January 27, 2013 at Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) in which Fenner claims he was assaulted include second-degree kidnapping, first degree assault and one count of attempted strangulation.

Leading up to the Judge’s announcement this morning was discussion which among other things included the question of plea deals or concessions to witnesses – of which Assistant District Attorney Garland Byers admitted there were none at this time after he had withdrawn the plea offered to Adam Bartley in prior months. Covington’s defense attorney David Teddy will be notified should any future deals or concessions be offered.

Additional conversation about one particular email between the State and an attorney for another defendant was reviewed by the Judge who then deemed it not pertinent to the case; sealed in an envelope and placed in the file. Judge Gavenus also outlined the procedure for interviewing jurors. They were to enter the court one at a time from the jury holding room. He would address them first, next Byers would asked questions and attorney Teddy would finish with his questions.

The left side of the courtroom was reserved for the jury pool. They were led in and out by the bailiff. He retrieved each new jury candidate and led them to their seat in the middle of the jury box. He directed their every step.

This arrangement meant the right side of the gallery was for everyone else. Everyone else included the distinct sub-groups, the media, now-WOFF members (leadership and those subpoenaed), ex-WOFF members (many who were witnesses) and family and supporters of Matthew. During the course of the day, it was clear each party knew the invisible boundaries which stood between the opposing groups. The signals became more confusing after lunch as Brooke’s supporters took the second row from the front behind the media and Matthew’s group filled in next with more now-WOFF members behind them. Yes, it was awkward.

Attorney John Grisham entered the court room late carrying at least two large envelopes containing photographs of the sanctuary of WOFF. He explained his tardiness to the Judge citing some personal health issues. Judge Gavenus told him the Motion to View for which he represented WOFF would not be even considered until the afternoon and he excused Grisham. It was plain to see the Grisham was entirely focused on his goal to obtain a denial of the Motion at all costs. He was fully unaware of how his efforts portrayed him as woefully desperate.

The jury pool entered shortly around 10:12AM and Judge Gavenus begins his first of many exhortations to the citizens who had answered the summons to jury duty. He explained who the court employees were and the duties of each. He outlined the procedure for interviewing and he charged them with several admonitions and warnings from which he hoped they would take their responsibilities very seriously. His main message was that each one selected would be required to weigh the evidence according to his instructions, apply the law as he would explain it and make their judgment based only on the evidence presented inside of the courtroom.

The Judge repeated over and over the caution and requirement that each selected juror must abstain from talking to the each other, their family, the media or anyone else about the case. If there was talking about the case inside the jury holding room or elsewhere, he wanted to know about it immediately. He let them know if they were excused to not be upset, they may serve on another case.

The process of selection began. One at a time, a prospective juror was allowed into the courtroom and asked basic questions by the judge. They stated their name, how long they had lived in Rutherford County, which area they lived in, if they were employed and what kind of work they performed. If they were married or had a significant other, the Judge asked them what type of work the spouse did. Next, the juror was asked to review the witness list and let the Judge know if he or she knew anyone on the list. If they recognized someone, Judge Gavenus would probe their relationship to see if it meant disqualification.

Among other questions, they were asked if they had ever served on a jury before and if they knew of any reason they could not render a fair and unbiased judgement once the evidence was presented. After the Judge was finished he politely thanked each juror for their answers and turned them over to the State for further questions.

Assistant District Attorney Garland Byers then introduced himself and began his qualifying or disqualifying questions. During the session, the questions varied according to the answers from previous questions. Most jurors were asked if they knew about the case before they arrived. If they answered positively, he probed for their knowledge and understanding of the case. Questions about subscribing to the local paper, reading the RCcatalyst.com site, having social media accounts, made general searches about WOFF, if they read this blog or knew John Huddle. Byers asked if it came out in evidence that Brooke Covington was a minister at WOFF, would that hinder the juror from rendering an unbiased judgement. Included in his questions were ones about the juror’s strengths of beliefs on homosexuality. He cautioned them they had every right to their beliefs, the State just wanted to ask about their beliefs.

Once Byers was satisfied with his answers, he would either announce to the Judge he was satisfied or ask for the Judge to excuse the juror. Most of the time, he was satisfied. The Judge then directed the defense to begin questioning.

Defense Attorney Teddy introduced himself and had more questions on the whole than the first two. He probed for clarity to answers to previous questions and definitely took the bulk of the time used for each juror. He asked about the juror’s beliefs on marriage as it pertains to the NC legislation recently passed. His questions were aimed to find any reason the juror was either previously biased against WOFF or did not uphold the presumption of innocence requirement in our legal system. Teddy asked if the juror knew about or had attended the Community Forum held recently or knew of the Faith Freedom Fund, Adaville Baptist church or Robyn Spence.

There is not space here to review the entire day’s content. Nor do I plan on revealing anything personal about the individual chosen jurors. Many opinions were expressed about WOFF and their practices. Several were based on news accounts and rumors to which the answer included telling the juror only evidence brought out in trial could be considered in making a judgment.

There was one point in the afternoon which the Judge advised both the State and the defense that WOFF was not on trial, Brooke Covington was. He did not stop the questions about WOFF, he just asked for more focus on whether or not the jurors could fairly weigh the evidence pertaining to Brooke. Also, during the afternoon, Attorney John Gresham reappeared and was allowed to leave his pictures with the Judge.

By the end of the session, seven jurors had been selected. The need is for seven more reflecting twelve active and two alternates.

Shortly after 5:00PM, Judge Gavenus announced the remaining jury pool of 24 will return at 9:15AM and a second jury pool would arrive at 1:30PM. The process resumes on Wednesday. Trial deliberations are expected to begin once a jury is seated. Yes, this could be a long hot summer.

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(Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 602.

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2 thoughts on “Fenner Case Update: 7 Jurors Seated, 7 more needed”

  1. Kim,

    Brooke Covington, Kent Covington, Jayne Caulder, Josh Farmer, Caleb Farmer, Jane was seen outside the courthouse. JW was seen outside the courthouse. Karel was involved is personal drama and did not make it into the courtroom. Several others were there as potential witnesses. Robert Lewis Walker, Jr. was there. I did not see Adam Bartley and Justin Covington could have been there and I missed seeing him. In the afternoon session I saw a few different faces from the morning session.

    Hope this helps,

    John

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