Trial may be imminent for members of a sect who've been accused of trying to beat "homosexual demons" out of a now-former member. Matthew Fenner says that he joined Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC, with his mother and brother in 2010, but that he fled on Jan. 27, 2013, after he was attacked by two dozen members for two hours as he was leaving a prayer service. The AP has interviewed 43 former members of the 750-member evangelical church, as well as reviewed documents and covertly made recordings, and reports that sinners are routinely "purified" by being punched, choked, and thrown to the floor as a means of expelling demons. One witness says Fenner's beating "made me sick."
The church was founded in 1979 by former math teacher Jane Whaley and her husband Sam, a former used car salesman. It's grown from just a few followers to its North Carolina congregation and nearly 2,000 more members in churches in Brazil, Ghana, and other countries. Fenner, now 23, says his mother and brother are still members, and that in spite of finishing college and getting ready to go to medical school, it's hard for him to move on with his life as the trial continues to be delayed. "I can't do anything until this is over," he says. If two motions filed by the defense related to trial venue and jury pool are denied, or if the judge decides to seat a jury before deciding on the motions, the trial for the first of five total defendants could start Tuesday. (Students in the church's school were allegedly encouraged to beat their classmates.)