Judge finds Argue not guilty on all four counts

The Victoria County Record/May 15, 2002
By Madeleine Leclerc

Not guilty on all four counts was the decision rendered by Grand Falls provincial court Judge Jacques Desjardins on Friday, May 10 following the day and a half trial of 43-year-old Fletcher Argue who was charged of willfully disrupting a religious service and committing three assaults on Sept. 2, 2001, while he was attending worship ceremonies at the Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Plaster Rock.

Ten witnesses were called to testify by the Crown represented by Charles Couturier. They included Rev. Dana McKillop, pastor of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Plaster Rock as well as church members Mark McKillop, Darren Bourgoyne, Kevin Pelletier, Andrew Albert, Jason Corbin, Stephen Diamond, Kevin Thompson, Timothy Leech and RCMP Constable Daniel Roy. Defense lawyer Wendell Maxwell of Moncton called only one witness, the accused's son, Trevor Argue, and Dana McKillop during cross-examination.

The majority of the Crown's witnesses testified on Thursday that Fletcher Argue had walked into the church on the morning of Sept. 2, 2001, while the service had already begun, pushed some children aside in the front pew and sat down.

"He would mimic the pastor. If Rev. McKillop would take off his glasses and clean them, Argue would do the same. If Rev. McKillop would raise his hands in the air, Argue would do the same," stated Mark McKillop, a nephew to Rev. McKillop. He also stated he had taken photographs with a digital camera the morning of the service after seeing Argue enter the church. Six of the photos taken by McKillop were entered as evidence by the Crown. Some of the photos showed the accused in the midst of the congregation which numbered 350 to 400 members. "I knew it would be a controversial issue," McKillop stated when asked by the Crown why he had taken the photographs. "I was trying to make a record of what was going on." He added he turned the camera over to Daniel McKillop, the pastor's son. The pictures were then downloaded into a computer.

Rev. Dana McKillop testified to having known Fletcher Argue for approximately 30 years. "I was his pastor for many years," he said. "About two years ago, he stopped attending my church. The morning of Sept. 2, I saw him walk fast down the aisle towards the pulpit. He shoved a couple of boys aside and sat in the front seat. He stood when the rest of the congregation stood."

McKillop stated he heard Argue say: "Preach Dana" and "Preach Daddy". "He was hollering it out," he said. "He would take his glasses off when I did. He would mimic me. He bowed down to me. No one else was doing these things. At the end of the service, people gathered in the front to pray. I stayed on the platform."

Under cross-examination by Maxwell, McKillop stated he was 54 years old and that the Apostolic Pentecostal Church was an incorporated company, adding that the Church appoints its directors at a yearly business meeting. He admitted that Argue had been a substantial contributor to the Church over the years. McKillop agreed with Maxwell's assertion that members contributed 15% of their gross salary to the Church. "Although not everybody gives that," replied McKillop.

The Church also operates a school which, according to McKillop, is "approved by the government to provide academic education to grades 1 to 12."

McKillop denied any knowledge that Argue has not been allowed to contact four of his five sons who attend the school and who live, along with their mother, with the pastor and his wife at the parsonage located across the road from the Church.

"You believed that Fletcher Argue had Satan or an evil spirit in him. Is that not correct? You received a vision?", Maxwell asked McKillop. "I had an experience somewhat along that line and I consulted some men in church about it," stated McKillop.

Under further questioning by Maxwell, McKillop denied telling Argue's wife "to leave him" and that the "Church adopt his children". The Church and its leaders are facing a defamation lawsuit filed by Argue in May 2000 in Court of Queen's Bench. No trial date has been set in this matter.

McKillop admitted that church services was a noisy process and charismatic in nature. "It is not unusual for people to speak out, dance in the aisles, run, fall down and hurt themselves. Some have done cartwheels in front of the church. When they get a little carried away, they are taken to a room by the ushers to calm down. You, yourself, have thrown a microphone and hymn books," stated Maxwell. "Yes", replied McKillop.

"On one tape, I heard you say you want to be known as 'Daddy'," Maxwell said. "As a spiritual continuity or leader. I'm never called Daddy in church," stated McKillop. "In our church, we call one another 'Brother'. We are never called by our first name."

McKillop denied trying to interfere with Argue's relationship with his children. "I have no animosity towards him", he said.

Insincere gesture

"We don't imitate our minister," stated Darren Bourgoyne in his testimony. "It was not normal for him to sit in the front pew. He usually sat in the back and would have a good sleep. He was not one to be demonstrative and to respond. I automatically knew something was up."

"In front, Fletcher Argue came up and grabbed my hand. With his tone of voice, I knew he was not sincere when he said 'Pray'. He tried to hold my hand in the air. He was forcing it to stay up. He grabbed the back of my neck and attempted to pull my hand in the air. I told him I didn't want him praying for me because I felt he was insincere. When Rev. McKillop was still on the platform, Argue said 'Tell him to come down and confront me like a man. He's a chicken.' Some of the men stood as a wall in front of Rev. McKillop. It was intimidation and disruptive. The whole congregation was focused on his actions."

"You have serious conflicts with Fletcher Argue. You're a bit of a scumbag, aren't you?" Maxwell asked Bourgoyne in cross-examination. The Crown objected to the comment.

"You had an affair with Fletcher Argue's wife behind his back", stated Maxwell. "I don't believe that question has any bearing on this trial," stated Bourgoyne and then stated "Yes" when directed to answer the question by Judge Desjardins.

"You are both members of the same church. You come here today, as a brother, and you want the court to believe your testimony? You didn't want him to pray for you because of your guilt. He was a mighty man to do that, to take your hand and pray for you," stated Maxwell.

In his testimony, Kevin Pelletier stated he "did not like it" when asked of his reaction to Argue's raising of his hands and other actions during McKillop's sermon. "He was mocking the pastor. I definitely did not like it. In front, we formed a line. Argue said 'Let me speak to Daddy. Get the big man down here'. He was agitated. He was clapping his hands over the top of my back. He was leaning in my back."

"I noticed when he (Argue) first came in, it seemed he was there to be noticed. I had not seen him in church for a while. I wondered what his motive was," stated Andrew Albert. "I heard him making slanderous statements such as 'Who's your God now?' and 'Oh, you have a different Daddy'. It's not something we're accustomed to... slanderous comments towards Rev. McKillop."

"Argue put his arms around me from the back and pushed me with his stomach," Albert said. "I was annoyed and told him not to push me. When someone said the police had been notified and had arrived, Argue said 'They want me, they can come up and get me.' The members weren't hostile but they were not too pleased. We were not in favor of his statements. Some told him to be quiet and not to make these statements." "I did not believe his gestures were made in a genuine way. I had not seen him do that before. We do not bow to the pulpit. I stood in front of him on purpose", stated Albert. "I was positioning myself so that he would not advance."

"Are you a confrontational type of fellow?", asked Maxwell. "I don't feel so," replied Albert. "You got a nose broken by a young fellow you were trying to get back in church, didn't you?" asked Maxwell. "No, sir," replied Albert.

Jason Corbin reiterated Argue's alleged "mocking" gestures. "I thought he was acting crazy when he would stand up and bow," Corbin stated. "You think bowing is crazy?" asked Maxwell. "Yes," replied Corbin. "You think dancing in the aisles is not?" asked Maxwell. "No", replied Corbin. "It was unusual for him. He never did that before. Usually, he sat on the seat and slept."

"Due to recent history and ongoing problems, it looked like he (Argue) would physically approach Rev. McKillop. He imitated him, took off his glasses, called out 'Preach it Dana'. It was abnormal for him to do that. Nobody copies the pastor in a rough way. He was mimicking and intimidating. It's clear that's what he was doing," stated Stephen Diamond.

"Rev. McKillop was carrying on with his sermon. I could see he was under the pressure as the intimidation was continuing," Diamond said. "I had suspicions his (Argue) intentions were not good because of his actions. I thought he would do something physical to the pastor. I believed he wanted an altercation. When the police escorted him outside, people clapped hands. No one was sorry to see him go."

Under cross-examination, Corbin stated he saw Paul Corbin double up his fist and put it toward Argue's face. "He didn't touch him. I told him (Paul Corbin) not to touch him because that's what he (Argue) wanted. In a pig's eye, he (Argue) wasn't there to worship. He wasn't acting in the proper way to worship. Bowing was irrespective," stated Corbin. Kevin Thompson testified he was an usher the morning of Sept. 2 when he saw Argue enter the church and make his way to the front pew. "I followed him up the aisle and sat in the second or third pew. I was approximately 50 to 60 feet from him. He was mimicking the Reverend. In the front, there was some jostling and bumping in the crowd. He was backed up to the third pew where he put a foot up on the furniture. I asked him to remove his foot, which he did."

"After he (Argue) strode through the door and went to the front seat, I went and sat across from him," stated Timothy Leech, another usher. "He (Argue) mocked Rev. McKillop. Some of the men gathered around him to prevent him from getting to the pastor. I felt that our pastor needed protection. I didn't know how far he would go and whether his intentions were peaceful or otherwise."

Agreeing with the defense's description of McKillop as being "a big man physically", Leech stated that when the pastor came down from his platform, "Fletcher Argue never left his seat."

Constable Daniel Roy testified he received a call at 12:05 p.m. on Sept. 2 pertaining to a disturbance at the church. Arriving at 12:25 p.m., he escorted Argue out of the church. Argue followed the officer to the RCMP office where he gave a statement that same afternoon. The defense waived a voir dire hearing pertaining to the Crown's introduction of Argue's statement as evidence.

Following the officer's testimony, the defense called Daniel McKillop to the stand in order to question him as to the number of photographs taken that morning. "I went to my office where Mark McKillop, my cousin, was downloading the images to my computer. Six photos were burned onto a CD and given to the police," he said.

No Contact

At the start of the second day of the trial, Maxwell called Fletcher Argue's eldest son, Trevor, 20, to the witness stand.

"Rev. Dana McKillop was my pastor for 15 years in Plaster Rock. I grew up in Plaster Rock and attended the Pentecostal Christian school which is affiliated with the church, through grades 1 to 9 or 10. I visited Rev. McKillop at the parsonage many times and lived there three or four years ago with him and his family for four to six weeks. I was about 15 or 16 years old at the time," stated Trevor Argue.

"Mom was in the hospital due to a nervous breakdown following a marital dispute between my parents. McKillop told me and Travis, one of my four brothers, that my parents were having problems and that he had had a vision or experience pertaining to my father. Me and my brothers were to have nothing to do with my father and to live with my mother. I remember one instance when my teacher, the Reverend's wife, made reference to why my father was in such trouble was because he didn't listen to the pastor and that we should be thankful that the pastor could see spirits. Children had to look up to him (McKillop)," he added.

The Crown objected to Argue's comments as being 'hearsay' and questioned the relevance of his testimony.

"The Crown's witnesses' evidence is of blindness. They perceived everything Fletcher Argue is of Satan and that there is an evil in him," stated Maxwell. "They created a perception of Fletcher Argue and even tried to indoctrinate his kids."

Asked by Maxwell if he still attended the Pentecostal church, Trevor Argue stated he had stopped two years ago. When asked if he knew where his four brothers were, Argue stated he believed they were all living with Dana McKillop at the parsonage. "My only contact with one of my brothers is when he is working at the mill," Argue said. "What about contact with your other brothers?", asked Maxwell. "Absolutely not," answered Argue.

"Last night, my father and I stopped at the parsonage to talk to my brother Travis. We talked for five minutes and McKillop's son told us to get off the property. I was not aware that the RCMP had been called," stated Trevor Argue pertaining to an incident which had occurred the prior evening.

"Who has not allowed you to see your brothers?" asked Judge Desjardins. "They (my brothers) said the pastor. When I left, the pastor told me I would not be allowed to have contact with my brothers," stated Argue. In his summation, Maxwell told the court his client's actions on the morning of the Sept. 2 church service was "consistent with what others did during the service".

"The Crown's witnesses' evidence is tainted, colored and, at some points, unbelievable," Maxwell said. "They said they were so afraid for the pastor that they had to protect McKillop. It does not add up and does not make sense. McKillop came down from the pulpit and stood 8 to 10 feet away from Fletcher Argue. Leech said so in his testimony."

"Fletcher Argue attended church that morning. The Crown will argue he should not have been there. A sign out front of the church states "Everyone welcome". Argue has never had a restraining order prohibiting him from going to the church or been served a notice under the Petty Trespassing Act of New Brunswick. McKillop said so under cross-examination. He was an invitee. That was his status. He was never asked to leave. He showed enormous courage and restraint to be there. Obviously the other persons who were disturbed were the ones who had a false impression of Argue after they were told he was full of Satan. From what I see, nobody else was interpreting Argue as being a problem."

"The service went ahead without a hitch. Seventy-five percent of the people came to the front of the church to where Argue was. They weren't peeking around the corner at this Satanic figure," Maxwell added. "People were singing and clapping their hands. It was a celebration. A few of the men gathered near or around Argue. He was singing and clapping his hands. Is this causing a disturbance? No. Everyone else was doing the same. There was no willful disturbance but in accordance to what was done in the worship service."

"The fact he bowed probably twice, some witnesses interpret that as being crazy. Bowing is a symbol of respect," he said. "As for the assaults, there is no question that some of the evidence was very colored, very prejudicial and dogmatic. I don't think there were any assaults. Some witnesses were not objective. In this situation, the court has to look at if there was in fact an assault or a matter of people bumping into each other or whether the contact was deliberate. If there was contact, it was very trifle."

"Fletcher Argue did not go on the platform. If I have a lawsuit against you, am I going to attack you? Because there is a legal dispute, it does not mean a propensity to violence. They had no basis to think that Dana McKillop was in imminent danger," concluded Maxwell.

"Fletcher Argue's conduct that day amounted to disturbing individuals," stated the Crown Prosecutor. "He was there to make a point and not to worship or to see his children. There was conflict between Argue and McKillop. If he had been there to see his children, he would have sat with them, which he did not. From the moment he walked in and the moment he was escorted out, people were clapping. They were happy to see him leave. The court can deduct that his behavior was disruptive."

"It was a deliberate and continued attempt to annoy the service in progress," Couturier added, "not a passive but an active role on his part. There is ample evidence before the court. As for 'colored testimony', 10 different people observed what his conduct was. Argue was there to disturb the service. It all comes down to that. There was already an ongoing conflict between the two. He even invited him (McKillop) to fight. He even called him a chicken."

In rebuttal to that last statement from the Crown, Maxwell stated that his client had never asked anybody to fight. "He wanted to talk with Dana McKillop. The only reference to a fight was when Paul Corbin put his fist in Fletcher Argue's face," he pointed out.

An Undesirable

"The manner in which the assemblage conducts itself during a service is important. It is a charismatic participation in which one can be taken up by his or her emotions and responds by raising hands, saying 'Amen' and 'Let it be so'. Some, in their exuberance, dance in the aisles and run around the church. It is not unheard of to have people raise their hands in praise and worship," stated Judge Desjardins.

The judge then went on to point out discrepancies in Rev. McKillop's testimony.

"He said he never came down from the platform yet Leech himself testified that McKillop did come down and stood in front of him, approximately eight feet away from Fletcher Argue," said Judge Desjardins. "In his statement, Argue mentions this."

"Also, McKillop said he had no knowledge that Argue could not contact his children. We know that, as of last evening, Fletcher and Trevor Argue had followed Travis to the back of the parsonage and were speaking with him when McKillop's son told them to leave private property. Also, Trevor Argue has stated he has been prevented from seeing his brothers. I find that hard to believe that McKillop had no knowledge of Fletcher Argue not being allowed to see his children."

"The service was not frustrated or interrupted by Fletcher Argue. The opening line of the Crown is that he went there to make a point due to the legal situation between him and McKillop and that he was prevented from seeing his children... that he had a beef with McKillop. He did not go there to willfully disturb the congregation. The service went on as normal. From the witnesses' testimony, it is very obvious that he is an undesirable person there. He is the black sheep of the flock and his actions were seen to not be appreciated. He did some of the same actions as the rest of the congregation although some of them have said they believed them to be a mockery of the pastor."

"If we look at the actions at the close of the service, when there was singing, worshipping, clapping, it became evident that Argue's point was with McKillop and not the congregation. It was a different issue. They formed a line to push him back and someone called police. I found him not guilty of the disturbance charge."

Pertaining to the three assault charges, Judge Desjardins stated that most of the context presented by the witnesses' testimony was "a perception and interpretation of the facts."

"Touching a shoulder or a hand is a friendly gesture. It could also be a disciplinary measure. There was some jostling, touching and alleged assaults took place. Darren Bourgoyne said Argue grabbed his hand and he felt he was not sincere. I have a reasonable doubt it was an assault. Kevin Pelletier said he saw Argue put his hands on Andrew Albert who told him not to touch him. He leaned over Pelletier's back and clapped his hands. Pelletier said he pushed him back to keep his balance. He was among those milling around Argue and pushing him back. I also have a reasonable doubt. It does not constitute an assault. Pelletier was not even assaulted. He turned around and gave Argue a Certs after telling him he had bad breath."

"Andrew Albert said Argue bumped into him and he told him 'Please, brother, don't push me'. Argue told him 'I need some room'. A lot of men were pushing him. Albert said he and the other men were "all physically close" and that he was "positioning" himself to prevent Argue from moving. Argue did not testify on this point. Albert was pushing against him. Was he hindering Argue's free movement? What kind of assault was Argue's putting his arms around Albert's chest from behind? I don't think it amounts to an assault. Again, it is clear to me that Argue is an undesirable in that church."

Upon hearing the not guilty verdicts, McKillop's two sons, who had been sitting in the back of the courtroom, rushed out. Rev. McKillop did not attend the second day of the trial.

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