Fenner Case Update: Walker Trial Continued and Gag Order Modified

What does this all mean?

Rccatalyst.com reported the continuance of the Robert Louis Walker trial earlier in October. A date for the trial to begin was not set. The reason given was “new discovery.” Translated this means new evidence. Assistant District Attorney Garland Byers agreed to the continuance and one has to interpret from that notion that the “new discovery” held some weight and potential effect on the pending trial, possibly a good thing in the long run (longer than ever anticipated).

For background: these ongoing court proceedings stem from incidents on January 27, 2013 in the Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) sanctuary in which Matthew Fenner alleges he was assaulted, held against his will and strangled. The indictments handed down in January 2015 were filed against Brooke M. Covington, Sarah Anderson, Justin Covington, Robert Lewis Walker, Jr. and Adam Bartley- all church members at the time of the incidents. After many pre-trial motions during 2015 which included a disqualification of Farmer and Morris as counsel for any of the defendants, Brooke Covington’s trial commenced earlier this year. During the June 6th session, unauthorized documents introduced into the jury room by the jury foreman caused Judge Gavenus to declare a mistrial. In addition, he followed this with a gag order on those involved in that trial either as potential witnesses, attorneys and court officials. The jury foreman, Perry Shade, spent 30 days in jail and was fined $500.00. The Associated Press filed suit to remove the gag order.

Rccatalyst.com also reported Judge Gary Gavenus finally ruled on the gag order he imposed in June. In court documents provided on the Rccatalytst.com website, Judge Gavenus modifies the order to allow the jurors to talk freely to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). He orders the sealed documents surrounding the trial and the documents introduced to the jury held and viewed only by the SBI. He states he never intended the gag order to be permanent and set it to expire on March 31, 2018. Included in the documents is a line by line account of the conversations during the session on June 6th. I found this very satisfying and was glad to know the public could get some understanding for how this all evolved in court. The AP’s motion to immediately lift the gag order was unsuccessful.

The concern of Judge Gavenus that somehow the publicity would be controlled by a gag order has been thwarted by the very presence of the long running gag order. It served as a boost to the heightened curiosity and raised doubts as to the desire of the responsible authorities to delve into events which preceded the mistrial. What would they find? How did the jury foreman walk past the bailiff and the judge in open court carrying these documents? The possibility that he was aided in some fashion by another individual cannot be dismissed without proper investigation. After all, who gained the most by the declaration of a mistrial? If memory serves me right, the jurors were allowed to exit and enter the side entrance of the courthouse during their breaks. Were there cameras in that area?

At a very minimum, the obvious presence of a “hands-off” unspoken understanding in the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department headed by the WOFF-friendly Chris Francis has to be explored by the SBI. Why have the survivors of WOFF had such a difficult time obtaining at least an introduction to the process of justice for their claims of abuse? The timeline of Matthew Fenner’s journey to justice begins with much delay and lingers on as the weeks, months and years pass. Has the process been hindered in anyway by the obvious support and coalescing behaviors of WOFF members and the local Republican Party?

Oh, John, there you go! You are mixing two subjects which people should stay away from- religion and politics. Friends, when religion and politics are relentlessly feeding and festering off each other – we all lose. Somehow the aggrandizement of WOFF’s subculture and signature practices supported by our elected officials, many in the Republican Party; makes me ill and leaves a huge distaste for all involved. Looking away from the physical and emotional damages caused by WOFF in light of the volunteer hours and cash supplied by WOFF-members is reprehensible. Agree?

Will the SBI be able to disentangle the personal friendships fostered by many in local government with WOFF leaders and find the truth about not only the events during the Covington trial, but the other areas brought to light earlier this year by the Associated Press? Areas of concern reported this year by the AP include:

1. The treatment of WOFF survivors (adults and children) during their time in the group.
2. Meetings held on WOFF grounds specifically design to change the testimony of church members during legal proceedings and/or investigations.
3. Treatment of Brazilians and other foreign nationals surrounding work-related visa violations.
4. Long running unemployment fraud orchestrated by leader Jane Whaley and others in leadership roles.
5. Questions of improper sharing of sensitive information between a former district attorney and church lawyers.

This ongoing saga does not promise a quick resolution. This list only summarizes the investigation into WOFF in North Carolina. WOFF affiliated churches in Brazil are facing their own scrutiny as also reported by the AP.

Earlier this year, I characterized WOFF as a stain on North Carolina. Let me go onto explain there are many good-hearted, caring folks living as members inside the WOFF subculture. I have known many of them for years. However, to the degree that the physically and emotionally damaging practices along with the potentially illegal activities go unchecked, unchanged and ignored; then we as citizens of North Carolina deserve the rewards thereof. In my opinion, the leader and her leadership must be held accountable, fully investigated and the findings fully processed according to the laws of our State and Nation. Otherwise, what hope is there for the children caught inside the WOFF-maze? What hope is there for the integrity of our State and our social fabric to be purged from this blight? Our hopes remain for now that justice will prevail and the truths about WOFF will be brought into the light.

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(Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 620.

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2 thoughts on “Fenner Case Update: Walker Trial Continued and Gag Order Modified”

  1. ? Does either Bartley or Walker still attend WOFF? The new evidence that has been mentioned in the Walker case, is this in favor of the state?

  2. Honestly, I do not know for sure what the evidence. I hope it is in favor of the State’s case. We shall see in time.

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