Co-defendant testifies against minister in church abuse case

A courtroom sketch of Sarah Anderson in court on Friday, June 2, 2017. Anderson testified Friday that she told other leaders at Word of Faith Fellowship she thought Matthew Fenner was unclean and sinful. (Artist: Skip Rohde)

One of five people charged with beating a fellow church member to expel what they called "homosexual demons" says church leaders asked everyone at the attack to tell investigators that nothing happened.

Sarah Anderson testified Friday that she told other leaders at Word of Faith Fellowship she thought Matthew Fenner was unclean and sinful. Anderson also testified that Covington began the confrontation by screaming at Fenner after a January 2013 service at the church in Spindale, North Carolina.

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Minister Brooke Covington is standing trial on kidnapping and assault charges.

Some church members have referred to Sarah Anderson as Brooke's daughter. However, Anderson told jurors on Friday she has no biological ties to Covington, and that Covington was her guardian, and she lived in Covington's home with Matthew Fenner.

Inside the courtroom, Anderson told jurors she was "in authority over" Fenner. She explained that meant she was his guard at classes off the church campus, and he was to tell her if he had thoughts that were unclean, meaning sexual in nature, that went against the church's beliefs. She said she was to deal with or correct Fenner sharply about the sin.

Anderson admitted she'd gone to Covington that night in January 2013, after being corrected herself the week before the incident for not being more of an authority with Fenner.

Anderson told jurors Covington confronted Fenner with Anderson and pushed and shook Fenner during the prayer session or "blasting."

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On Friday afternoon, Anderson also testified Brooke Covington and other church leaders interfered with her affidavit of the events that night, saying they wrote it for her and coached her on testimony, instructing her to say no one touched Fenner.

Anderson referenced several meetings held to reenact what happened during the January 2013 incident. Anderson claimed as the blasting was reenacted, Covington would move people further back. Anderson also testified two Burke County assistant district attorneys took part in the reenactment. She added that one of those assistant district attorneys played the part of Fenner during the reenactments.

On cross-examination, the defense asked Anderson whether she felt she had initiated the events in January 2013 by telling Brooke that Matthew Fenner had "given to sin." But Anderson replied Covington initiated the blasting after Fenner agreed to the blasting prayer.

Former church member John Huddle was in the courtroom on Friday to watch testimony. He believes that testimony could be influential in other co-defendant cases still to come.

"She has chosen to do something several others have chosen not to do, and I believe not only will she benefit in the long run, but the community as a whole will benefit having known what goes on inside that group," Huddle said.

Anderson was testifying as the state's witness on Friday, but is charged with kidnapping, assault by strangulation, and simple assault in a separate case. Anderson says she has no deal with prosecutors, and didn't say why she decided to incriminate herself.

Content from the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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