WNC Church Members Indicted On Assault, Kidnapping Charge

CBS WSPA-7 News, South Carolina/December 9, 2014

By Tracey Early

Rutherford County, North Carolina -- Five members of a local church are facing serious charges. The Word of Faith Fellowship has been apart of the Spindale community in Rutherford County, North Carolina for more than three decades. One former member says something that happened behind closed doors had him fearing for his life.

"I honestly thought I was going to die," said Matthew Fenner.

He says several church members beat and strangled him because he's gay.

"My head was like being flung back, my vision was going brown and black," said Fenner. "I couldn't breathe and I'm sitting here thinking if I don't get out of this, i'm probably going to die."

That 2013 incident has now led to the indictments of five church members: Sarah Covington Anderson, Adam Christopher Bartley, Brooke McFadden Covington, Justin Brock Covington and Robert Louis Walker Jr. Each face simple assault and kidnapping charges. Anderson also faces an additional charge of assault by strangulation. The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office released the information Tuesday afternoon.

A "No Trespassing" sign kept us from driving up to the Word of Faith Fellowship building Tuesday. The church's attorney, Josh Farmer answered our questions via email.

"They are innocent of the charges leveled against them and we look forward to proving their innocence and to their complete vindication before a trial court," said Farmer. "We are adamant that no one ever physically harmed Mr. Fenner... The church does NOT target members who are gay."

Fenner says he's pushing forward for what he's knows is right.

"This is the only way that I can get my voice out there to say look, this kind of stuff is happening. It happened to me and it just kind of sheds some light onto the things that are going on in there and that people do know, but can't really have the facts to go with it," said Fenner.

The grand jury met Monday on the case. Fenner says his mother and brother, who are still members of the church, were among the witnesses who testified against him.

(Update by Addie Hampton, Reporter)

We did some digging and this isn't the first time an accusation like this was made.

In 2011, a young man said he was held against his will by the church for months because he was gay. He later recanted.

In 2003, the church was involved in a custody dispute between a former church member and the same Brooke Covington accused today.
Reports show the mother gave Covington temporary custody, but in October of 2003 those children were ordered removed from the home after a district court found the environment abusive.

Two daughters went back to the church after an appeals court tossed out the ruling.

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