Fenner Update: Defense Calls No Witnesses, Case Goes to the Jury

Today’s testimony by State witness Rachel Bryant confirmed the meeting held at Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) in Jane Whaley’s office as attended by several church member attorneys with the purpose of coordinating and coaching a strategy to counteract the charges filed in this case. The list of attendees sounded more extensive to me and I believe had an effect on what occurred later in the day. Ms. Bryant was the second witness in this trial to tell of the gathering, however, she did not attend the follow-up meeting in the sanctuary outlined in earlier testimony by Sarah Anderson.

The State also called a man who worked as a Detective Special Agent for the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) in 1995, Mr. Shook. He was present during the March 1995 interview of Brooke Covington and relayed information from that investigation. That session centered on an incident from 1988 where WOFF members were involved in restraining a lady to a bed for 13 days for an extended “deliverance” session. Assistant District Attorney Garland Byers said the purpose for introducing the testimony was to affirm that when Brooke told Matthew, ‘You are going nowhere until these devils come out, I don’t care if I takes three days,’- she meant it.

After much discussion between Byers and Teddy over Rule 44-B, Judge Gavenus disallowed the admission of Det. Shook’s testimony and the jury never heard about the 1995 SBI investigation into WOFF from which then District Attorney Jeff Hunt decided not to pursue charges.

In retrospect, if Hunt had pursued charges in 1995, whether convictions were obtained or not; is it possible we would not have had the countless lives negatively affected by WOFF over the years since and the incidents involving today’s case never would have occurred? We will never know for certain. At a minimum, the evolution for “blasting prayer” to become “more and more aggressive over the last 16 years…” as Sarah Anderson testified during trial– may have been avoided. The entire WOFF subculture could have taken on a different nature- a healthier one. (Sigh)

Soon after Judge Gavenus ruled on the testimony of Det. Shook, defense attorney Teddy launched into a long dissertation seeking to have both charges against his client dismissed. This may be a standard tactic, but in the end, Judge Gavenus denied Teddy’s motion. Both the State and the Defense were ready to proceed. The jury was brought into the courtroom and excused for lunch about 12:30Pm to return at 2:00PM.

Next, Judge Gavenus asked Brooke to stand and he put her under oath. In his deliberate and kind manner explained Brooke’s options in regards to her choice to testify on her behalf or not. If she chose not to take the stand in her defense, he would instruct the jury that her choice could not be viewed as an admission of guilt. Brooke asked the Judge for time to confer with her attorney during the lunch break. He granted the request and excused court until 1:30PM.

Upon our return to court at 1:30PM, Judge Gavenus reminded Brooke she was still under oath and that the decision to testify or not was solely hers. No one could or should make that decision for her, not even her attorney. Brooke announced she would not take the stand and the Judge asked her plainly if she had made the decision freely and voluntarily. She again confirmed her choice.

The State rested their case and Attorney David Teddy said he would call no witnesses and submit no further evidence or exhibits. At first, this seemed shocking to me, but in hindsight, who could he call that had not already been named as attending the meeting in Jane’s office? How would Byers treat those witnesses under cross-examination?

The jury was still not in the court room as the trial moved into a charge conference. During this time, the Judge called out different preset reference numbers letting both the State and the Defense what information would be included once it was time for the Judge to instruct the jury. There was debate over what was to be included or excluded and why.

While the Judge read over documents there were periods of long silence. Well, as silent as it can be when every movement of someone trying to get comfortable is announced by a loud groan from their wooden chair! It really is a unique chorus singing the song- “replace me, replace me…or I will get worse…”

By this point, as the Judge relayed a proposed verdict sheet with instructions to Byers and Teddy, it was clear Teddy would rely on a strong closing argument to persuade the jury to his side. Just before 2:30Pm, the jury entered the courtroom and the Judge instructed them that closing arguments are not evidence. He went to say if an attorney references testimony in a manner different from their recollection, they were free to make their decision based on their own memory.

There is no way to recap all of the points either Byers or Teddy made during their closing arguments. I will hit the high spots which stuck out to me. This was my first time witnessing closing arguments in a jury trial of this magnitude. I was very curious at this point.

Garland Byers chose to present his closing first. At 2:29PM, he greeted the jury taking his position front and center before them and began his pleas. He started recounting the evidence as presented by the State reminding the jury the burden of proof rested on him. He went on to distinguish that WOFF was not on trial. The reference to WOFF was needed to give context to how Matthew and Brooke came in contact and related to each other.

Byers summarized Matthew testimony that on January 27, 2013, he was being slapped, hit, punched, pushed – assaulted. He said Matthew was terrorized by this “extreme” blasting session. He reminded the jury that two witnesses had labeled the session as “extreme.” Matthew had two choices – endure until it was over or endure, say something and make it worse. One witness said “ten times worse…”

When Byers explained the events of that fateful night, he related them back to the two charges facing Brooke, second degree kidnapping and simple assault. He married the narrative to key terms within the language of the particular charge. He reviewed highlights of the testimonies offered by Matthew, Sarah, Danielle and Rachel.

He said, “In the name of religious freedom, we don’t assault people…” He told the jury they were the sole judge of the credibility of each witness. Byers reminded them that Sarah testified with no “deal” in place, she incriminated herself by telling the truth about January 27th. One point he made about Rachel’s testimony earlier today; when asked what happens when folks try to leave a deliverance session without permission, she replied, they are held down and beaten. She had witnessed it.

While reviewing the testimony over the last few days, Garland made reference to the meeting in Jane’s office to coach or rework the events in order to fashion a new story. He said, if nothing wrong or bad happened, why would you need to meet and coordinate a new version? Why would attorneys need to participate in such a meeting?

Mr. Byers told the jury consent does not come out of fear. There was the question of Matthew’s consent to the prayer. I was reminded recently; a person does not consent to assault. Never. The trips back and forth from the sanctuary to the foyer were reviewed and tied to the kidnapping charge.

At one point, Byers summarized the State’s case by saying he provided a witness that told what happened (Matthew), a witness who said yes, it happened I helped in the assault along with Brooke (Sarah) and another witness who confirmed the events, (Danielle). What more do we need to agree that a crime has been committed?

The close for the State ended just after 3:00PM. Then came David Teddy with his visual presentation including a slide presentation, a white board with text and a large graphic showing the logic needed to overlay each part of the charge under the law.

Teddy presented a multipronged attack on each witness’s credibility and motives. He attempted to point out logical loop holes in the State’s case. He broke down statements from each witness’s testimony showing minor differences. One conflict was about the length of the prayer session in question. He pointed out the difference in time references, but failed to note that no witness confirmed his initial opening statement on Thursday that the session last 15 to 20 minutes. Opps.

The difference can be explained in my estimation of the repetitive commonness of blasting prayer at WOFF- one easily loses track of time during these episodes. I know, I lived through thousands of them.

Teddy labeled statements from Matthew as “Pinocchio Moments.” His chiding and derisive manner did not impress. He was thorough to the point of coming off as desperate. Remember, this was his ONLY chance to defend his client by defaming and casting doubt on the State’s witnesses. He did not hold Brooke up as having any virtue or saying she was incapable of performing the acts she was accuse of. His tactic was to cast the given testimony as unbelievable and in some ways fantastical with the Pinocchio reference.

His timeline of events attempting to cast dispersions on Matthew and the Sate for taking to so long to bring this case to trial conveniently left out WOFF attorneys – Famer and Morris disqualification and appeal pre-trial debacle. Delays and more delays before October 2014 and after the indictments were secured in January 2015.

At one point he rebuffed the State’s claim that Matthew was terrified during the prayer by saying if this were true, then every Baptist minister preaching about sin and keeping his folks past twelve noon is guilty of terrorism. He said WOFF’s doctrinal position was against among other things- “lying”. I about threw up the energy bar I had for lunch.

At another point, he used Otis from the Andy Griffith show retelling the scene where Otis locks himself in the jail sell making the analogy that Matthew was not falsely imprisoned as the State claims.

Teddy recited a list of people who did not testify on behalf of the State which might carry weight except he had not called any witnesses. Again, witnesses denying the events would have a hard time passing muster because of the meeting in Jane’s office.

My bias in this matter is evident. I will say that Teddy was thorough in laying out his plot to undermine, discredit and annul the State’s prosecution of this case. The State did not sew-up loose ends and could have improved their case in several ways. Will the jury accept Teddy’s mannerisms and gestures? I am not sure. I have never been accepted for jury duty and do not know the weight of the task they face. The two extremes presented during this trial could befuddle the jury and cause a lengthy deliberation. Several nuances of WOFF-life went unexplained. That concerns me. After I left, the Judge charged the jury and they deliberated until just before 6:00PM. We shall see what the jury decides. Jury deliberations begin again Tuesday at 9:00AM.

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(Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 605.

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One thought on “Fenner Update: Defense Calls No Witnesses, Case Goes to the Jury”

  1. What in the World happened? Did we witness tampering or just poor choices made by an individual? The community is stunned and suspicious.

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