ARLINGTON — There were two months of “he said, she said,” then 15 months of silence forced by a judge’s gag order.
But beginning Wednesday, the silence will be broken and 12 jurors will have to decide who the real Terry Hornbuckle is.
Is he the rising star minister who started with a Bible study group that met in an abandoned Dairy Queen and went on to build it into a 2,500-member church in south Arlington with a ministry worth millions?
Or is he a serial predator who used his power and influence to bed young female congregants by slipping drugs into some of their drinks?
Testimony is expected to begin Wednesday morning in state District Judge Scott Wisch’s court. The trial is expected to take two to three weeks.
The high-profile witness list is believed to include former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders and Bishop T.D. Jakes, a televangelist and minister of the 30,000-member Potter’s House church in Dallas.
Hornbuckle, 44, of Grapevine, was indicted in 2005 on six charges of sexual assault involving five women, one charge of possession of a controlled substance, one charge of tampering with a witness and one charge of retaliation.
Prosecutors are planning to try Hornbuckle on three sexual assault charges involving three women. Each is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. Because Hornbuckle has never been convicted of a felony, he would be eligible for probation if he is found guilty.
The other cases will remain pending, although jurors would probably hear about them during the punishment phase if Hornbuckle is convicted.
Defense attorneys Mike Heiskell and Leon Haley and prosecutors Sean Colston and Betty Arvin declined to comment for this article, citing the gag order issued in April 2005 by the first judge in the case, James Wilson.
Before the gag order was in place, Hornbuckle held a news conference and accused the women of trying to extort money from him before going to police. The first three accusers sued him in December 2004.
Wilson recused himself from the case last year after Hornbuckle’s attorney accused him of being “biased and prejudiced.” Additional details were unavailable because of the gag order.
The other news in the case over the last 17 months has consisted of Hornbuckle bailing out of Tarrant County Jail and being rearrested six times, four of them because he violated the terms of his bail, authorities said.
His bail was revoked at least twice for failing drug tests.
Hornbuckle checked into two drug rehabilitation programs while free on bail.
The last time he was rearrested, in March, was for leaving a court building without permission while his $3.62 million bail was being processed.
He remains in jail without bail awaiting trial.
Hornbuckle started Agape Christian Fellowship in Irving in the mid-1980s with about a dozen members at a former Dairy Queen.
Now the church meets in a 42,000-square-foot facility on nearly 30 acres in southeast Arlington.
The property is valued at more than $4 million, according to tax records.
Hornbuckle is still considered the church’s spiritual leader, and his wife, Renee Hornbuckle, presides over services.
Terry Hornbuckle’s pictures and biography remain on the church’s Web site. But his legal troubles have affected the church.
Soon after Hornbuckle’s arrest, a director on Agape’s board left and started another church.
The church claimed 2,500 members when Hornbuckle’s saga began.
Membership dropped as low as 300 at one point but has rebounded to about 600, said Charles Richardson, chairman of the church’s board.
He produced a list of the church’s accomplishments over the last 17 months, which included feeding and clothing Hurricane Katrina evacuees, starting a transitional housing program for single mothers and helping launch programs to curb violence among teens.
“We’re starting to grow again,” Richardson said. “People did leave, but we’re starting to build again. This church is still standing.”
The church had remained tight-lipped since the first media crush at the time of the indictment, although media members were allowed to watch services with the understanding that reporters wouldn’t talk to congregants.
Richardson said they wanted to keep the trial and the church’s business separate.
“This may be his [Hornbuckle’s] vision, but we want people to know that the church is separate from the man,” Richardson said. “We’re not there for a person; we’re there for God. We’re there to praise and worship.”
The church is behind the Hornbuckles, but there will be a service on the Sunday after the trial, no matter what the jury finds, Richardson said.
“We’re hoping and we’re praying that a good outcome comes from it,” Richardson said. “But the church has to go on. We hope that justice prevails and that God’s will be done.”
Staff writer Melody McDonald contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
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