Did Sandra Norris violate the gag order over the Fenner case?

June 6th of 2017, Judge Gary Gavenus filed an Order in the State of North Carolina versus Brooke Covington trial. The Order declared a mistrial because of documents introduced into the jury room which “tainted the integrity of the verdict.” The Order also recognized the need to “protect the integrity of the trial for the State, the Defendant as well as her co-defendants.” The Court imposed a gag order over several groups of individuals including the jury, attorneys involved and those listed on the “State And Defendant Witness List.” Sandra Norris was included on that list.

Brooke Covington was standing trial based on indictments handed down in January 2015. The charges of simple assault and second degree kidnapping stem from events inside the Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) sanctuary on January 27, 2013 in which Matthew Fenner alleges he was beaten and held against his will. Four other defendants in the case include Sarah Anderson, Justin Covington, Robert Louis Walker, Jr. and Adam Bartley. Ms. Covington is the only defendant to stand trial so far in this drawn out case.

The gag order was modified in October of 2017 to allow the State Bureau of Investigation access to the sealed documents and set March 31, 2018 as an expiration date for the entire order.

Wednesday, Sandra Norris spoke on the WOFF radio show on WCAB 590 AM. WOFF takes to the air waves Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 8:30AM. For those not in the immediate listening area, WCAB uploads their streamed version of the show- most days.

During the Wednesday morning broadcast, Sandra spoke for several minutes extolling the happy life she has lived and continues to live as a member of WOFF. “Miss Norris” went into detail about her education background and teaching career; her students who love her and her parents who attend WOFF. Sandra’s father is the brother to Jane Whaley’s mother. Sandra made it very clear she has been a faithful Word of Faith Fellowship member from “the very beginning days of the church.”

Miss Norris makes a point to mention her observations about Jane Whaley which include characterizing Jane as a Proverbs 31 woman. She says Jane never takes money from people, she gives it. Adding to her discourse, she explains during her teaching days, she always wrote “Revelation 21:8” on her board, explaining to her students- there are no liars in heaven. While explaining her experience at the school run by WOFF, she exclaims, “I would never be a part of a cult or abuse… I am appalled…”

After mentioning her knowledge of the Coopers and saying they were “never abused”, she explains the support she has received during family crisis situations. Mark Morris interjects some background on the Cooper family and that a few of them have been mentioned in the Associated Press articles. Sandra says of the Coopers, “…they have so attacked…”

Again, she declares there never has been abuse in the (WOFF) school. Adding she is on the Board there…

Then she mentions “… the Fenner case, I was there, I know truth. And I’m just appalled. My students can tell you, Revelation 21:8. There will be no liars in heaven….”

Here is where things become dicey. Anyone listening can tell she is not calling the five defendants in the Fenner case – liars. She is calling Matthew Fenner (by inference) and the Coopers directly- liars.

The gag order does not prohibit anyone from calling the Coopers – liars. What it does prohibit is anyone named “from discussing this (Fenner) case with any member of the press.”

Sandra Norris establishes herself as an authority to be believed when it comes to life at WOFF and then declares as far as the Fenner case, “I was there, I know truth…” Abuse is not part of our lifestyle.

At least one member of the press was present for her discussion and who knows how many others heard her or will hear her strong opinions surrounding the Fenner case? Does her dogmatic assertion of no abuse at WOFF while directly referencing the Fenner case qualify as a violation of the Court imposed gag order? Is there any way to measure how such reckless comments will hinder future jury selection? What will this action, no matter how well intended, do to “the integrity of the trial(s)”?

I believe it is time for the Honorable Judge Gary Gavenus to be informed so he can weigh in on the matter. If we are to believe Mark Morris’ declaration that the listeners are now hearing truth(!) – then, the negative effects on the integrity of the whole legal process surrounding the Fenner case should be a great concern.

Which is it, Mark? Are the listeners far and wide being greatly swayed by your truth-filled programs or are you over-stating your effectiveness? Your listeners are potential jurors. Your good name, reputation and maybe your legal career all rest on your answer. If Sandra’s testimony has a great effect on Rutherford County and wherever the Internet reaches – which includes other members of the press, then has she violated the Court order? What is truth? Judge Gavenus issued the order and I hope he answers the question for us.

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(Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 626.

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