Fenner/Justin Covington hearing postponed again (Story being updated.)

BUNCOMBE COUNTY — In the State of North Carolina versus Justin Brock Covington, the defense attorney, Krinn Evans, has made another motion to withdraw representation. That new hearing was scheduled April 3, 2018 at 2 p.m. in Buncombe County. However, that hearing is cancelled and will be rescheduled for the earliest possible date.

Garland F. Byers Jr. with Krinn E. Evans

The motion for withdrawal of counsel is because the office of Krinn E. Evans, P.A. has associated former case prosecutor ADA Garland F. Byers, Jr.  as an employee of that firm. Byers had been directly responsible for the prosecution of Justin Brock Covington. In order to preserve impartiality, Evans will again ask to withdraw as Covington’s attorney as he shares an office space with Byers in the same firm. As a result, Evans contends there is a conflict of interest  (or imputed disqualification) that cannot be resolved.

“My ethical duty as an attorney requires that I avoid even the appearance of impropriety or unethical conduct. Garland Byers has been a long time friend of mine and when I learned he was considering leaving the D.A.’s office I asked him to come work with me. He is the first attorney I have ever considered partnering with.

When he agreed, we discussed the potential problem of my continuing to represent a defendant in the WoFF as a court appointed attorney. We agreed despite the fact that my client may want me to stay, I needed to inform the Court of the ethical issues I was facing. I will follow whatever decision or order the judge may give.”

Evans was appointed to represent Covington on June 30, 2017. A previous Hearing to have been heard on February 16, 2018 in Buncombe County did not happen due to a scheduling issue according to Judge Pope’s administrative assistant.

District Ted Bell who was expected to file a continuance in the hearing due to his unavailability on that date provided the following explanation:

Upon Judge Pope’s order that the venue of the Matthew Fenner cases be changed to Buncombe County, the Rutherford County Clerk’s Office sent all of the files to the Buncombe County Clerk’s Office and closed out the files in the Rutherford computer system as transferred. However, the Buncombe County Clerk’s Office interpreted the order as changing only the trial location of the cases, and that all hearings were still the responsibility of Rutherford County.

Buncombe County refused to enter the matters into their computer system, and left the files sitting in bins on a windowsill in their office. After many attempts to resolve this situation by both Rutherford County Clerk’s Office and the District Attorney, these offices contacted the legal department of the Administrative Office of the Courts for assistance. Unfortunately AOC declined to get involved.

The District Attorney spoke with the Buncombe Clerk’s Office many times, both on the phone and in person in Buncombe County, in attempt to resolve this situation. Multiple times the Buncombe County Clerk’s Office stated to the District Attorney that the Motion to Withdraw was not scheduled, and was not going to be scheduled in Buncombe County – that it should be held in Rutherford County. As recently as two days before the February hearing date that the Defense had requested the Clerk’s Office told the District Attorney the hearing was not going to be scheduled.

Finally, the Rutherford County Clerk’s Office and the District Attorney reached out to Judge Pope’s office for his assistance, who notified the Clerk’s and District Attorney’s offices several weeks later, on March 9th, that the issue had been resolved. The hearing is now scheduled for April 3 in Buncombe County.

The initial alleged incident occurred in January 2013. Matthew Fenner accused five members of the Word of Faith Fellowship (WoFF) with assault, kidnapping, and attempted strangulation during a “blasting” session in the sanctuary.

Fenner’s cases were faced with delays in:

  • having an incident report taken at the sheriff’s department,
  • botched indictments,
  • former members whose bail was revoked when they left WoFF
  • defense attorneys’ disqualification through an appeal process
  • investigations of misconduct of attorneys associated with WoFF
  • changes of venue

Brooke Covington’s re-trial (the original ended in mistrial by juror foreman misconduct), the only one of the five that has been in court, still has not been transferred to Buncombe County.

Of the recent delay for the withdrawal motion, attorney Krinn Evans offered the following:

The motion was filed properly in Rutherford County and forwarded to Buncombe as instructed. An email received from Mr. Bell indicated that he would be unavailable on the court date. I agreed to continue, and Mr. Bell stated he would handle securing a continuance date with the judge.

We were waiting to hear about the date of continuance, and we considered the matter resolved.

It was only later that we were informed that no continuance date had been obtained, and we renoticed the matter on for hearing after the judge’s office staff for good good dates.

The rescheduled hearing date will be announced as soon as it is confirmed.