RUTHERFORDTON — A single mistyped digit caused a District Court judge Friday to dismiss an assault charge against Jane Whaley, the co-founder of the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale.
Judge Robert Cilley declared the original criminal summons for Whaley “fatally defective” because it listed the date of the alleged offense as Feb. 24, 2003 instead of Feb. 24, 2002.
Lacy Wien, a former WOFF member, has accused Whaley of assaulting her over the course of a two-hour meeting. Wien left the church shortly after the incident with the help of her now husband Ruben Wien.
Wien is allowed to refile the charge and did so Friday afternoon. The new court date for the misdemeanor criminal assault charge is Jan. 12, 2004.
Wien gave her direct testimony Friday, during which she corrected the date of the alleged incident as read off the summons by Assistant District Attorney Ken Sauve.
Whaley’s lawyer, Henderson Hill of Charlotte, asked for the dismissal at the beginning of his cross examination.
After Hill asked for the dismissal, Sauve requested an amendment to the summons to correct the date.
“When the amendment does not change the nature of the offense (an amendment is allowed),” said Sauve in calling the variance insubstantial. “This certainly doesn’t (change the nature of the offense).”
Hill said that even a few weeks difference in dates can be meaningful.
“My understanding of case law is that a time period of weeks or months can be a substantial variance,” said Hill.
Judge Cilley agreed and dismissed the case.
“It is in the opinion of the court that the defendant is entitled to know the year in which the alleged offense occurred,” said Cilley.
Wien said it is difficult having to relive the events of that day, but she feels it is imperative to prevent the same from happening to others still in the controversial church.
“When you are telling the truth you feel comfortable, but it is still hard because you have to relive it,” said Wien after refiling the charge. “It was hard because while I was sitting there, I just kept having flashes from that night.”
Wien took questions from Sauve for about 20 minutes, telling her side of what happened that night.
“I was brought to the church early that Sunday to get prayer because I was wanting to leave the church,” Wien testified.
She said she had been wanting to leave for some time because “every bit of my life was controlled and regulated” by the church.
After conferring with Lynn Millwood, Wien said she was sent to the “holding room” at the church to get a spanking from Whaley. Wien was 18 years old at the time.
Wien said she was sitting in a chair when Whaley walked in.
“Jane Whaley had her hands out like this (in front of her) and she grabbed me around the neck and pulled me up and put me up against at wall and was beating my head against the wall,” said Wien. “She was shouting at me and saying things like ‘You’re a fornicator.'”
Wien said Whaley was upset about Wien’s desire to leave the church and to pursue a relationship with Ruben.
Wien said that Whaley told her she had a prophecy that Wien would leave the church and commit suicide on March 23 after Ruben took Lacy away from the church and profited from prostituting Lacy.
During the what Wien says was two hours of abuse, Whaley wanted to blast Wien, but Wien did not cooperate. Blasting, or strong prayer, is one of the controversial practices of the church which involves loud screaming or moaning which the church claims drives out evil forces.
“She said I could not leave the meeting until I renounced by love for Ruben,” said Wien.
Sauve presented three photographs taken by Ruben of Lacy’s neck about a week after the alleged assault. They were taken shortly after Ruben helped Lacy leave the church.
Ruben says the couple was in Spartanburg, S.C., and was being followed by church members. Ruben said the church was accusing him of kidnapping Lacy and he took to photographs to have documentation about why he had taken Lacy away.
Lacy had not told anyone about the assault until the day she left the church with Ruben, a week after the alleged assault.
Ruben is also a former WOFF member. The two married in August 2002.
“I think it was good to see Jane there in court, because the truth will set you free,” he said after helping Lacy refile the charge.
Whaley declined to comment on the case, but indicated her desire to tell her side of the story.
Wien also has a civil suit pending against Whaley and the church which is expected to be heard in the spring of 2004.
The WOFF has been under the microscope from the media, law enforcement and social services since 1995 for their unusual practices which include blasting, corporal punishment and a practice called discipleship, or isolation by some former members.
Multiple former members have come forward in recent years to tell their stories of what they claim is emotional and physical abuse at the hands people in the church.
The church operates its own school and many of the 400 church members work in businesses owned by other church members. Members socialize very little with people outside the church.
WOFF recently filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Social Services for alleged bias against the church. The primary force being the claim is religious discrimination.
Recently Judge Randy Pool ruled the church environment was abusive to children and ordered the four children of Shana Muse removed from the home of a couple in the church.
Muse had left the children with WOFF ministers Kent and Brooke Covington because the children refused to the leave the church with Muse. Muse claims the children were brainwashed to believe that if they left the church they would go to hell.
Muse received treatment from Wellspring, a facility in Ohio that counsels ex-cult members. Ex-members and their supporters say the church is a cult because of its controlling nature and structure centered around Whaley.
Muse returned to the Rutherford County in December of 2002 to try to get her children back.
The Covingtons recently appealed to the North Carolina State Supreme Court for a stay on Pool’s ruling, but were denied. Stays were also denied by Pool and the Court of Appeals.
Muse’s two younger boys are in foster care and the girls in a group care facility. The two girls are in the process of trying to get their own lawyers and become emancipated from their mother. The girls are ages 15 and 16.
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