Trespassing charges dismissed for Lakewood Church hecklers; Osteen testified at trial

Joel Osteen testifies at trial of Lakewood Church hecklers

By Phil Archer - Reporter, Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The attorney representing several members of the controversial Church of Wells told Channel 2 Investigates charges are being dismissed against the two remaining members.

Six men were charged with trespassing and disrupting services at Lakewood Church. On Wednesday, trespassing charges were dismissed against four members of the church and jury found them not guilty of disrupting a public meeting.

At the time of that trial, Jacob Gardner and Richard Trudeau were in New York state attending another court hearing. Jon Stephenson, attorney for the two men, said he was informed Friday by the Harris County District Attorney's Office the charges against Gardner and Trudeau were being dismissed.

Wednesday's developments

The halls of the Harris County Courthouse echoed with the sound of hymns after four members of the controversial Church of Wells secured not guilty verdicts. The men were charged last June with trespassing and disrupting Sunday services at Lakewood Church.

“We are unashamed of the Gospel. We are willing to suffer, we are willing to go to jail, or anything,” said Church of Wells member Kevin Fessler. “By God's grace, God was with us.”

Church members said they spoke out during Pastor Joel Osteen's service last year because they believe he is spreading a false message.

“He is a false prophet and he preaches a prosperity message that does not turn the people from their sins,” said Fessler.

Osteen had no comment as he left the courthouse flanked by sheriff's deputies. Osteen's attorneys tried unsuccessfully to prevent the pastor from testifying and cameras were not allowed to record his time on the witness stand. Osteen testified the group interrupted his sermon four times and seemed intent to stay after they were asked to leave.

Patty and Andy Grove were appalled by the jury's verdict.

“These guys are criminals. They're dangerous,” said Patty Grove.

Grove and her husband drove from Arkansas to watch the trial. Their daughter, Catherine Grove, joined the Church of Wells in 2013 and cut off all contact with her family and friends. The Groves said all attempts to contact their daughter were blocked by church members. They believe the church is a cult.

“They should not have the right to terrorize people. They shouldn't have the right to go into anyone's church, into Joel Osteen's church, to terrorize children, women,” said Patty Grove.

Channel 2 Investigates has reported on how the Church of Wells is no stranger to controversy. Impromptu sermons by members around the country have resulted in several arrests and confrontations. In their eyes, though, church members believe they are only true Christians in a sinful world.

[WATCH OSTEEN LEAVE COURT]

“This world is depraved and in sin, fallen. And Jesus Christ shed his blood for the whole so they might be saved,” said Fessler.

Attorneys for the men persuaded the judge to dismiss the trespassing charges. The jury found Fessler, Mark DeRouville, Randall Valdez and Matthew Martinez not guilty of disrupting a public meeting.

Attorneys for the men argued they were exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech by expressing a religious opinion and the disruption was an unintended side effect.

Two more members, Jacob Gardner and Richard Trudeau, still face trial in this case. At the time this trial started, Gardner and Trudeau were in New York state. Trudeau was at a court hearing on charges of disrupting services at a Baptist church in the town of Saranac Lake, and Gardner had traveled with him.

A judge said they could move forward with those cases when the men return to Texas.

The men are all members of the Church of Wells in Wells, Texas. They disagree with Osteen's theological teachings.

During the service last June, they allegedly stood up yelling out that Osteen is a false prophet.

Much like their other court appearances, the men sang hymns before they went into the courtroom.

Copyright 2016 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.