Hearing postponed in exorcism case

Judge admonishes parties: "Grow up"
Nov. 02, 2013 @ 11:01 PM

Halloween turned out not to be the day for a special judge to hear the case of an alleged exorcism gone awry, but he did admonish all the parties involved that if they pulled any more tricks, he’d threat them to a stay in the Sevier County Jail.

Jefferson County Judge Ben Strand is overseeing the case of assault and false imprisonment charges filed by local business man Andrew Byrd, owner of the Thomas Group, against Pastor Thomas Arwood of Family Chapel Church of God, Arwood’s wife and another church member. Byrd is handing the case because local judges recused themselves.

The case was postponed to Jan. 8, but Strand made his feelings on the case clear. Byrd waited until a year after the Feb. 21, 2012 incident to file criminal charges, at about the same time he filed a civil suit seeking $3.7 million from the Arwoods and the church.

“I’ve always felt like this was basically a civil suit anyway,” Strand said.

Don Bosch, the attorney representing the Arwoods, told Strand they have not completed depositions for the civil suit, and they believed those depositons could affect the outcome of the preliminary hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday. During the hearing, the judge reviews evidence from the prosecution to determine whether it’s sufficient to advance the charges to the grand jury.

After Strand agreed to continue the case until early next year, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Harrell asked him to add a restraining order against the defendants. Harrell said there had been at least one shouting match between the Arwoods and Byrd.

“The church where this took place is adjacent to property owned by (Byrd),” Bosch said. ‘There has been difficulty in Byrd, as we understand, showing up at the time of services on a regular basis to tend to his property.”

He acknowledged Byrd had a right to come to his property whenever he liked, but said it was “unusual” that he was there so often at the same time as the regularly scheduled church services.

Bosch also admitted his clients videotaped Byrd on his property at one point and that Joel Arwood spoke to Byrd at that time, although he said Arwood didn’t yell at Byrd.

Strand didn’t issue a restraining order, but he said a trip to the Sevier County Jail awaits members of either side if the skirmishes don’t stop.

“All I’ve got to say to you is, grow up,” he said. Some members of the audience could be heard muttering “amen” as he lectured both sides.

“I don’t care which side you’re on. If you don’t act like an adult, I’m going to put you in jail and give you an opportunity to learn how to be an adult,” Strand said.

Byrd alleges that Joel Arwood, his wife Theresa Arwood and church member Charles Shields attacked him in the Feb. 2012 incident. He says he came to the church on an invitation, but when he arrived there he was confronted. “During that meeting Defendant Theresa Arwood made statements to the effect that the plaintiff (Byrd) had a demon or spirit that needed to be cast out. Thereafter, defendants, Joel Arwood and Charles Shields, physically assaulted the plaintiff, while being encouraged by the shouts of defendant, Theresa Arwood.”

He claims he suffered a chipped tooth

The Arwoods and Shields have not filed criminal charges against Byrd, but in their responses to his civil suit they claim it was Byrd who attacked them.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com