RUTHERFORDTON — Four members of the Word of Faith Fellowship were found not guilty of false imprisonment Friday.
The four had been accused by former WOFF member Shana Muse for a March 2002 incident that took place in the home in which the five parties and others lived.
Acquitted Friday were Shana’s sister, Suzanne Cooper, Cooper’s husband Rick, daughter Lena Cooper and Carol Smith.
Counter charges filed by Rick and Lena Cooper for assault against Muse were put off until May 17.
Muse had accused the four of preventing her from leaving the Cooper’s home and the WOFF by retaining her in a bedroom until Muse relented.
The four, along with Muse’s two daughters, testified that Muse was extremely agitated and angry and they were trying to calm her down.
Before making the ruling, Judge Dawn Skerrett’s only comment was that she was concerned as to why it took Muse nearly two years to bring the charges.
The statute of limitations on such charges is two years.
Muse said after the ruling that she wondered why there is a statute of limitations at all if a judge is using the timing of the charge against her.
Tom Hix, attorney for the Coopers and Smith, put six witnesses on the stand. Each of the six was in the room with Muse during the incident.
Each told remarkably similar stories about the event which was partly or largely triggered by the exchange of opinions over a dress Muse’s daughter Rachel had tried on.
According to the six defense witnesses, the daughter, Rachel, had asked her mother whether or not Muse liked the dress she had on. Muse said she did and Rachel then sought out a second opinion from her cousin, Lena Cooper. Cooper said she did not like the dress and Rachel agreed and went back to her mother with that information.
Rachel’s older sister, Sarah, testified that their mother got angry at that point and started yelling at Rachel.
“Shana said ‘I’m your mother and I don’t care what Lena says,'” said Sarah.
Sarah said the screaming continued and included profanity which prompted Lena to go get her mother, Suzanne, and a short while later prompted Rick Cooper to come into the room.
When Cooper came in the room, the defense witnesses each testified, Shana jumped up off the bed and struck Rick Cooper across the face with a Bible held with two hands and “swung like a baseball bat.”
Rick testified he was hurt enough by the strike to seek medical advice and wore a neck brace for a couple of days. He said in April 2001 he had surgery on his neck.
Defense witnesses testified the struggle continued for a few more minutes with Muse spitting on several people and taking Rachel and throwing her against the still opened door to the bedroom. Witnesses said the door slammed shut and was cracked near one of the hinges because of the force.
Suzanne Cooper said she made a phone call to Karel Reynolds and then handed the phone to Muse to talk to Reynolds alone in the room as the other six went downstairs.
Muse then came downstairs a few minutes later and apologized for her behavior.
Muse testified that the dispute was with Suzanne’s treatment of Rachel.
“Suzanne came into the room and started scolding Rachel saying she had to repent for putting Lena in a position of false authority,” said Muse about Rachel asking for Lena’s opinion on the dress. “Suzanne was the leader of the household and she was the one who managed us and told use what to do.”
Suzanne Cooper later testified that she had advised Rachel to not ask Lena’s opinion on such matters.
“I did tell Rachel to ask her mom and not Lena because it can cause a situation in the family,” said Cooper.
Muse testified that Rachel was crying and Muse and Suzanne continued to argue.
Muse said Rick came in and put one knee on the bed next to Muse and began blasting her loudly.
Muse said she swore at Rick and said she wanted to get out.
“They all started putting their hands on me,” said Muse. “That’s when Carol Smith came in and closed the door.”
Muse said the restraining continued until she gave up exhausted. She said she was left with bruises and soreness on her upper chest and back.
Each of defense witnesses said the door was open the entire time until in closed with Muse pushing Rachel into it.
Muse said she was asked to come downstairs for a blasting in which everyone took part.
Muse did leave the church in September 2002.
She left her four children with WOFF ministers Kent and Brooke Covington. The Covingtons, WOFF founder Jane Whaley and several other church leaders were in court Friday.
Muse returned to Rutherford County in late 2002 to try to get her children back, but the Covingtons refused saying the children wanted to stay with them.
A Department of Social Services court action in September 2003 led to an October ruling by Judge Randy Pool that the WOFF environment was a danger to children and ordered Muse’s children placed in DSS custody.
The two girls are in a separate home from the Muse’s two boys who are younger.
Muse is trying get full custody of the children.
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