Sevierville exorcism case delayed

Halloween the date for case against church
Aug. 15, 2013 @ 11:55 PM

A special judge set what some may consider an appropriate date for the next hearing in the case of a pastor accused of knocking out a parishioner’s tooth in an exorcism gone wrong: It will happen on Halloween.

Local businessman Andrew Byrd, owner of The Thomas Group, swore out a warrant earlier this year charging Joel Arwood, pastor of Family Chapel Church of God, with assault and false imprisonment, along with Arwood’s wife, Theresa, and another church member, Charles Shields.

Byrd filed the criminal warrants at the same time as he filed a civil complaint against the Arwoods, Shields and the Church of God organization, seeking more than $3.5 million. The Arwoods filed a countersuit claiming Byrd attacked them during the Feb. 12, 2012, confrontation.

Byrd’s lawsuit claims he was summoned on that date to a meeting at the church, but it went in a new direction shortly after he arrived.

They were gathered Wednesday at the Sevier County Courthouse for a preliminary hearing, along with dozens of onlookers from the church. The gallery included Tom Sterbens, pastor of New Hope Church of God in Kodak; as well as local pastors and representatives of the Church of God’s office in Cleveland, Tenn., who were reportedly called as witnesses.

But that hearing never happened. Instead, attorneys for both sides met behind closed doors with Judge Ben Strand, who was appointed to the case after local judges recused themselves. The parties on Wednesday were reportedly discussing a possible plea agreement.

Shortly before lunch time, officials announced the proceedings were postponed until Halloween.

Criminal proceedings generally are completed before civil proceedings; court officials said no new documents have been filed in the civil matter since the Arwoods and Shields filed their responses to Byrd’s civil complaint.

Byrd’s lawsuit later stated that Joel Arwood “bragged to the congregation that he had punched the devil and knocked the devil’s tooth out.” According to the complaint, a crown on one of his teeth was knocked off during the melee, and some of his teeth were cracked.

The countersuits filed by the Arwoods claim that Byrd threw Shields to the ground and assaulted the two of them. Shields did not file a counter-claim, but filed a response saying he acted in self-defense.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com