Montana prosecutors up charges against missionaries | WORLD
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Montana prosecutors up charges against missionaries

911 calls paint starkly different pictures of roadside clash

From left: Jesse Michael Boyd, Eric Anthony Trent, and Josiah Boyd Photo courtesy of Jesse Michael Boyd

Montana prosecutors up charges against missionaries

Four missionaries arrested in November after a roadside altercation face stiffer felony charges in a Montana district court, where state Attorney General Austin Knudsen is aiding their prosecution.

Authorities arrested Jesse Boyd, 46, Bethany Boyd, 18, Carter Phillips, 20, and Eric Trent, 27, in November in Madison County, Mont. A local man accused the North Carolina–based evangelistic team of aggravated assault during their monthslong trek across the United States. The group said the Montana businessman, Bradley Terrell, 57, instigated the confrontation.

Prosecutors recently increased the severity of the charges against the team, but their reasons for doing so are unclear. Charges against Boyd, his daughter Bethany, and Phillips moved from “aggravated assault” to “assault with weapon.” Charges against Trent changed from “aggravated assault” to the misdemeanor “simple assault” and back to a felony, “assault with a weapon accountability.” Terrell has not been charged.

In a 34-minute hearing Monday, Judge Luke Berger of Montana’s 5th Judicial District Court agreed to remove ankle monitors from the defendants, who are out on bail. He denied a request to reduce their bail, saying $20,000 already posted on their collective bonds of $200,000 is a contractual matter he has no control over.

A spokeswoman for the Montana attorney general said he has not intervened in the case but instead provided resources, upon request, via the Montana Department of Justice’s Prosecution Services Bureau. Press secretary Emilee Cantrell said the bureau helps rural counties prosecute felony cases. Madison County, with more square miles than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, has fewer than 10,000 residents. Madison Deputy County Attorney David Buchler asked for help, Cantrell said, and the bureau assigned Thorin Geist, an assistant attorney general, to buttress the prosecution’s case.

The group, representing Full Proof Gospel Ministries in Conover, N.C., began walking across the country in March 2021 in Cape Hatteras, N.C., to distribute Bibles and raise awareness about their concerns over America’s spiritual direction. Jesse Boyd founded Full Proof Gospel Ministries in 2004.

The team documented 2,586 prior roadside encounters—none violent—including a half-dozen with elk hunters and drivers on Nov. 12.

WORLD obtained recordings of 911 calls made by Boyd and Terrell the day of their confrontation.The calls paint starkly different pictures of the Nov. 12 roadside brawl in subfreezing temperatures. That day, Boyd and his team walked 15 miles with a cross and flag along snowy U.S. Highway 287 in Madison County.

The missionaries were packing up for the day on a road apron connecting the highway to Cameron Drive, about 75 miles northwest of Yellowstone National Park. Terrell operates a fly-fishing shop called Dream Drift Flies, the eight-room Dream Drift Motel, and a convenience store—all about 800 feet south of where the incident occurred.

Terrell, the missionaries said, accused them of blocking the road. Though they had to work around snowbanks, they claimed to have left good road access. Details diverge about what happened next. Both parties agreed Terrell exited his truck. Both agreed Boyd drew a small handgun for protection. But after Trent put the gun away in their support vehicle, a silver 2022 Subaru Ascent, Terrell claimed the missionaries “jumped” him.

Terrell called 911 first. “I’ve been assaulted, and a gun pulled on me,” he told a dispatcher. “I’m bleeding pretty good here.” Terrell denied an ambulance and could be heard screaming on the scene.

“Hey, listen to me,” the dispatcher warned. “Stay with me. Do not provoke him anymore.”

When she recommended an ambulance again, an out-of-breath Terrell said, “No, I’m fine. I’m fine. I just got sucker-punched.”

Three minutes into Terrell’s call, he told the dispatcher the missionaries were headed north.

Jesse Boyd soon parked along U.S. 287 and called 911. Boyd claimed that after they stowed the gun, Terrell chest-bumped him, screamed and spat in his face, punched him, broke his sunglasses, and wrestled him to the ground. After Trent subdued and released Terrell, the missionaries claimed Terrell attacked Trent again, prompting Bethany Boyd to prod Terrell with a flagpole and Phillips to prod him with the group’s 4-foot cedar cross that reads, in part, “Repent or perish.”

“He attacked me, and he attacked [Trent],” Boyd told the dispatcher. “But he got the worst of that deal, I’m going to tell you that. And we were very restrained. I didn’t use the firearm. But we were told if we didn’t leave, they were going to ram our truck. And they were going to kill us.”

The dispatcher asked Boyd if he was comfortable waiting on the side of the road for deputies. “A little uncomfortable,” Boyd responded. “But I’ll do it if I need to. I’ll do it.”

By nightfall, the four missionaries were booked in nearby Virginia City, then incarcerated in three different penal facilities beyond Madison County. Jesse Boyd’s 12-year-old son, Josiah, was also traveling with them. Authorities assigned Josiah to state Child and Family Services workers and ultimately foster care. Several days later, authorities released the adults after fitting them with ankle monitors ordered by a justice of the peace.

Jesse Boyd praised Child and Family Services and foster caregivers who cared for his son in Montana but not the treatment of his son by law enforcement. WORLD viewed photographic evidence showing Madison County sheriff’s deputies held Josiah at gunpoint after the dispute. Josiah was transported separately to a building the boy later identified as the Dream Drift Motel, his father said. He was left alone in a patrol car for 10 minutes while a deputy corroborated Terrell's story with witnesses. Local resident John Lamb, who became an advocate for the missionaries, said the law enforcement video is hard to watch. It shows Josiah sobbing and asking if he will ever see his family again.

Lamb connected the group with a legal team led by John M. Pierce and Alexander Louis Roots. Pierce temporarily represented exonerated Kenosha, Wisc., shooter Kyle Rittenhouse. He also represented more than 20 defendants charged in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

On Jan. 4, prosecutors filed a court notice warning the defendants to have no contact with Lamb because they planned to call him as a trial witness. Contact, they warned, could result in a violation of bail and ankle-monitoring conditions.

Weeks after the Montana melee, Buchler, the deputy county attorney, filed a probable cause affidavit, citing two witnesses. The witnesses’ accounts were unclear. One statement read, “4 men attacked 1 man punching him. The other 3 people proceeded to attack the 1 punching, kicks and hitting him with the American flag.” The second witness said he observed Terrell get “sucker punched” by one individual in the altercation.

The ministry group’s defense team claimed the two witnesses were “2½ football fields” away as guests at the Dream Drift Motel, where their line of sight was blocked by at least one vehicle as the incident became physical.

Roots and Pierce claimed road access near the Dream Drift Motel was clear, and Terrell’s true beef with the defendants was one of religious or political intolerance. The attorneys cited a Montana state law that backs Boyd’s right to draw his firearm in self-defense.

WORLD was unsuccessful in multiple attempts to obtain a public report of the initial arrests (beyond an incomplete booking log entry), despite a Montana attorney general’s opinion supporting public release of arrest reports. The Madison County Sheriff’s Office said it created no initial arrest report of the incident and referred requests to the county attorney, who referred the final request to assistant attorney general Thorin Geist.

Geist said even the initial arrest reports were confidential information. “Respectfully, your request for the investigative file must be denied,” Geist wrote in a Dec. 22 certified letter. “In the same manner, the State also declines your invitation to discuss these cases.”

On its website, Full Proof Gospel Ministries lists strong support for Israel and the Jewish people while finding no favor for Democrats or Republicans. The website also claims President Joe Biden and the 118th Congress were not legitimately elected.

“I’m not an election-denier,” Jesse Boyd said. But he added that he has no faith in the accountability of elections in a nation where the unborn are unprotected and traditional marriage is flouted. “We’ve lost the moral compass of our country,” he said.

Jesse Boyd and his brother, Matthew, were among several Full Proof representatives at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Rev. Brandon Gwaltney, a Full Proof Gospel Ministries board member, said the board holds the missionaries accountable whether they’re walking across America or speaking at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The board scrutinized the Montana altercation, including photographic evidence, and determined the missionaries acted justly, he said.

“All they did,” Gwaltney said of the Jan. 6 trip, “is they went up to preach the gospel, as a reminder to the people that the presidency is not going to fix the nation. Only Christ can. It was a message to repent. And that’s the only reason our guys went.”

As the mob rushed into the Capitol, “our guys were standing back and still preaching,” he said.

The charges the missionaries face in Montana could result in 20-year prison sentences if a jury finds them guilty.

Gary Perilloux

Gary is a native of Hammond, La., and an alumnus of Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana State University. Over three decades, he worked as an editor and reporter in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and as communications director for Louisiana Economic Development. A 2022 graduate of World Journalism Institute, he and his wife reside in Baton Rouge, La.


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