Church leader found guilty

RUTHERFORDTON — Jane Whaley, the leader and co-founder of the controversial Word of Faith Fellowship church, was found guilty Wednesday of misdemeanor criminal assault.

Lacy Wien, 20, a former WOFF member had accused Whaley of assaulting her because of Wien’s desire to leave the church and have a relationship with her now husband, Ruben.

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 a cult of Christianity

Whaley will not serve any jail time for the Class 2 misdemeanor, but she must pay court costs and was given a $100 fine.

Whaley’s attorneys (Henderson Hill and Christopher Stepp) promised an immediate appeal to Superior Court. They declined to comment on the case except to say they were disappointed by the ruling.

Wien had mixed emotions after the five-and-half hours of testimony.

“I’m relieved and I feel like people are starting to listen (to what is happening at the WOFF),” said Wien, who also has a civil suit pending against Whaley and other church members. “The most painful thing about the whole day was to watch my family defend something that is unjust.”

Wien’s mother and brother, who remain in the church, testified on Whaley’s behalf.

Lisa Brown, Lacy’s mother, was in the room when the assault occurred in February of 2002 on a Sunday evening at the Spindale church. Wien secretly left her mother’s house and the church for good a week after the incident and jumped in a vehicle to be driven away by Ruben.

It was Brown’s testimony that Judge Robert Cilley highlighted in making his ruling.

“The defendant came in and asked if she (Wien) had fornicated with him (Ruben),” said Cilley in summarizing the facts. “It was spoken in a loud voice. I can’t hear the love in that. At this point, according to Lisa Brown, the defendant took the plaintiff by the shoulders and tried to get her attention.”

Whaley did not testify, but other church members testified that the meeting where the assault took place was beneficial to Wien and those present were just trying to help Wien through a tough time after Ruben had left the church four days earlier.

Wien said Whaley picked her up by the neck and shoulders, leaving bruises, banged her head against a wall several times and held her down on a table while shouting at her. Wien said the meeting lasted for over an hour.

Assistant District Attorney Joe Hamrick who prosecuted the case presented photographs taken by Ruben, who did not testify, about a week after the incident that show bruising and other marks. Cilley said the presence or absence of bruises did not matter, in a legal sense, to whether or not Whaley assaulted Wien.

Cilley said that it was clear Wien was not a willing participant in the meeting, though church members testified she was.

“A Judge can’t do that to a lawyer, a doctor can’t do that to a patient and a pastor can’t do that to a parishioner,” said Cilley.

Cilley said afterward that the use of term fornicator was a factor given the setting. Cilley said nobody uses that word these days except when couched in Biblical context.

“It wasn’t so much the demeanor (of Whaley) as the use of the term fornicator which was accusatory,” said Cilley citing the unique language used in the religious setting at the church. “Whether it was said out of love or anger it was an accusation.”

Hill argued in his closing statement that the facts and circumstances in this case did not rise to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt the prosecution is required to show.

Hill said the lack of testimony by Ruben Wien should be taken into account because he was the only person who saw Lacy’s bruises after the incident. He also said the 19 months between the incident and the filing of charges is indicative of improper motivations.

Hill implied that lawyers Wien spoke with encouraged her to file the charges to strengthen her civil case.

During testimony and examination, Hill and witnesses for Whaley said that Wien was scared of Ruben and that was why she was acting strange in the days before the assault.

Lynn Millwood, Brown and Lacy’s brother Collin Brown said that the meeting where the assault took place was beneficial to Wien. Millwood was in the room during the assault.

“She felt like a load had been lifted off her and it was the best meeting she had ever had,” said Millwood on the stand.

Millwood denied that a paddle used for spanking was in the room at the time of the assault. She further denied that any paddling takes place in the church.

Lisa Brown said she was very concerned for her daughter’s safety and stayed with her most of the time after Ruben left the church.

Ruben had been kicked out of the church after a series of letters were found which contained supposed facts about alleged criminal activity.

The letters, Lacy testified, were fakes designed to get both her and Ruben thrown out of the church so they could leave together.

The Browns and Millwood said the meeting lasted about 15-20 minutes.

Wien testified she felt as a then 18-year-old, she was old enough to make her own decision on whether to leave the church.

“I just wanted to leave, I loved Ruben,” said Wien who said the meeting was a threat to keep her in the church and away from Ruben.

“Jane stormed into the room and she was just in a rage. Her face was all tightened up and she had her hands up. She grabbed me right here (around the neck and shoulders) and pulled me up and put me on the edge of a table and started banging my head against a wall. She kept saying I was a fornicator,” Wien said.

Wien later said that any impression of calmness she had after the meeting was because of the certainty of wanting to leave the church.

“My eyes were wide open,” said Wien. “I felt like I finally saw the true side of Jane.”

The defense brought Dr. Robert Ford to the stand. Ford had examined Wien less than a week after the assault. Ford was a family physician at Spindale Family Practice at the time.

Ford said he did not see any bruises on Wien, but said he likely would not have looked on her lower neck or clavicle where the bruises were. Wien, who Ford said always dressed conservatively at the time, did not have Wien remove her shirt for the examination. Lisa Brown was present for the exam, which was primarily for an unrelated hematoma Wien had in her ear.

Hill pressed Wien as to why she did not mention the bruises to Ford.

Wien said she was afraid to because she had always been taught to not tell others about what goes on in the church.

Later, the prosecution brought Dr. Willis Archer to the stand. Archer is a pediatrician in Rutherfordton. He testified that the bruising shown in the photos was consistent with the type of attack he read about in a recent deposition by Wien.

Hamrick said in his closing statement that Wien has a sense of independent thought that was not present in the testimony of WOFF members.

“I don’t think the people of this state and this county should have to tolerate this,” said Hamrick in summarizing the case.

Wien has a pending civil suit, seeking $2.8 million in damages for what she describes as years of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of church leaders and other members.

Cilley said there was no doubt this case was just a prelude to others to come.

“This was a dress rehearsal for Superior Court and a dress rehearsal for the civil trial,” said Cilley. “We don’t normally spend this much time on a misdemeanor assault charge.”

The case is one of a number of legal proceedings that have popped up over the past 10 years since a Daily Courier investigation combined with an Inside Edition story exposed the bizarre practices of the church in 1995.

The church recently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Rutherford County Department of Social Services for what the church says is religious discrimination behind DSS investigations into child abuse.

In October 2003, a judge ruled in favor of DSS calling the church environment abusive to children. The four children of former church member Shana Muse were removed from the home of two church ministers and placed in DSS custody.

Muse had left the children with the couple temporarily as she left the church and eventually sought counseling at a retreat in Ohio catering to former cult members.

Muse later returned to get her children and supported the DSS action after the couple with whom she left the children refused to give them up.

The church has a number of unique practices which include a loud prayer called blasting where a person in usually placed in a chair in the center of a circle and anywhere from two to 20 people use guttural screams and shouts in an attempt to force demons out of the person.

Testimony by former members in court proceedings said that infants have been blasted. The church operates in its own school and most church members live in a communal settings with multiple families in each household.

Corporal punishment and a practice called discipleship or isolation are used as punishment and behavior modification tools in the school and other settings.

Most church members work in businesses owned by other church members.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Daily Courier, USA
Mar. 4, 2004
Jerry Stensland

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday March 4, 2004.
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