Whaley testifies during appeal

COLUMBUS — Testimony was completed in a Polk County Superior Court room Tuesday in the appeal of an assault conviction of Word of Faith Fellowship founder and leader Jane Whaley.

In a surprise move, Whaley took the witness stand in her own defense during a day-long session of mostly defense witnesses.

Lacy Wien, a former WOFF member, filed charges against Whaley and a lower court found Whaley guilty of assault last March.

The appeal was moved to Polk County after Whaley’s attorneys filed for a change of venue.

Whaley took the stand shortly after lunch and took questions from her attorney Robert Long of Asheville about the incident which took place on a Sunday evening at the church in February of 2002. Assistant District Attorney Joe Hamrick is arguing the case for the prosecution.

Word of Faith Fellowship
The Word of Faith Fellowship is an abusive church. Its teachings and practices fall so far outside those of normal, Biblical Christianity, that this church should be considered to be, theologically, a cult of Christianity. Sociologically, the WOFF has many cultic characteristics as well.

Both sides in the case agree to some facts, primarily that a meeting took place before the evening church service that involved Wien’s mother, Lisa Brown, Lynn Millwood and later Whaley.

Wien testified earlier that Whaley entered the room yelling and pulled her up out of a chair, shoved her onto a table a beat her head against the wall several times while calling her names like “fornicator.”

Whaley denied yelling and any improper physical contact, but did admit to asking a question of Wien about possible sexual relations with her now husband Ruben Wien.

Whaley had been summoned by Millwood after Wien refused to address either Millwood or her mother.

Whaley said she walked in asked Wien what was wrong. She said Wien told her that she loved Ruben and Ruben loved her.

“It literally shocked me when she said that because she had told me Wednesday or Thursday she wanted absolutely nothing to do with him; she was so afraid of him,” said Whaley. “The only thing that came to me was, and I have counseled a lot of young people, especially Christian young people, if they have ever fornicated with somebody it torments them.”

“That was the reason I asked her if she fornicated with him,” Whaley later added.

Whaley said she told Wien that Ruben did not love her and he was using her. She said she then laid her hands on Wien’s shoulders and began to pray for her.

Whaley said she then reminded Wien about Ruben’s past and said something about Ruben being involved with the Mafia in Europe. That reference was to a letter which Judge Dennis Winner did not allow into evidence, though portions of its contents were revealed during testimony.

The letter, Lacy said, was fabricated by Ruben in an attempt to get both of them thrown out of the church so they could leave and be together.

Whaley said after she prayed for Wien and they talked more, Wien appeared happy.

“(Wien) said ‘My mind is the clearest it has ever been,'” said Whaley. “The life of God was in her face, her cheeks were rosy and she was very happy and it was like the torment had gone off of her.”

Wien testified earlier in the day that she did indeed feel happy after the incident, not about the assault, but about the clarity she felt about needing to get out of WOFF.

“I was actually happy, my eyes were as big as golf balls, things were more clear to me than ever before,” said Wien. “It was at that point, that incident right there in that holding room, I knew was not of God and I knew I that I had to get out of there.”

Six days later, Wien secretly left her house and got in a waiting car driven by Ruben. Ruben had been waiting outside the house in the evenings over the course of three days waiting for Lacy to find a moment to escape.

The two were married six months later and plan to live in Sweden, Ruben’s home country, after this trial is complete.

In other testimony during the day, WOFF members Lynn Millwood, Tonya Brown, Lisa Brown and Marci Reno testified to various aspects of the event.

Millwood testified that Wien wanted to get away from Ruben the week before the alleged assault and gave Millwood various items that Ruben had given Lacy.

Lacy later said that Millwood took those items, including letters placed in a small bag and hidden by Wien’s bed, against Wien’s permission.

Two physicians, A.T. Pagter and John Skudlarick, testified.

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Dr. Pagter testified regarding Whaley’s health at the time of the incident. He said she was having pain episodes relating to complications from gall bladder surgery.

Whaley said she was sick the day of the alleged assault. Whaley said, at one point, “I could barely walk” on the way to the meeting with Wien, but did give two sermons that day, one before and one after the alleged assault.

Dr. Skudlarick, a Rutherfordton surgeon, testified about his opinion regarding photographs of Wien’s neck taken by Ruben about six days after incident. The prosecution said the photos show redness in her neck area and state it was caused by Whaley’s assault.

Skudlarick, based on examining the photos, said he did not see any evidence of trauma.

The defense also brought in two character witnesses, Vivian Sitton and Ray Norville, both of Rutherfordton. Neither said they were close friends with Whaley or WOFF members, but each said she was trustworthy and law-abiding from their experiences. Sitton said she went to college with Whaley at Appalachian State University and only sees her every few months in passing. Norville is Whaley’s neighbor.

Wien was brought back to the stand as the trial’s last witness.

She said her depression and anxiety leading up to the alleged assault were a result of uncertainty about seeing Ruben again. She said she was worried she’d never see him again after he was kicked out of the church. She said Ruben has never threatened her or caused her any harm or fear.

Attorneys will give final arguments Wednesday before the jury gets the case.

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Daily Courier, USA
Feb. 9, 2005
Jerry Stensland, Daily Courier Staff Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday February 9, 2005.
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