Prosecutors offer plea deal to Central pastor who defied COVID-19 crowd limits

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EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, La. (BRPROUD) — The Central pastor charged with violating Gov. John Bel Edwards’ pandemic-related crowd restrictions has been offered a plea deal that would settle his year-long legal drama.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore, prosecuting against pastor Tony Spell, outlined his offer at a court hearing Monday. If Spell pleads no contest to one of the misdemeanor charges against him, Moore’s office would drop the remaining charges.

“Him, his family and his church have been outstanding members but for this incident,” Moore said of the Pentecostal preacher. “We’re ready to either go to trial or resolve it.”

Whether Spell will take the deal at some point remains unclear, though the pastor’s legal team showed an initial disinterest after Monday’s hearing.

“We appreciate Mr. Moore’s courtesy and respectful offer to attempt to resolve this matter,” defense attorney Jeff Wittenbrink told BRProud.com. “Unfortunately the underlying issue of the governor’s authority would not be properly addressed if we accepted a plea bargain at this point.”

Wittenbrink is awaiting a circuit court’s ruling on whether Edwards’ restrictions on crowd sizes should apply to places of worship.

“We will have to flesh out these fights in court, because this issue will certainly come up again,” he said.

Even if Spell were to take Moore’s plea deal, the pastor would still be subject to a judge’s sentencing.

Both sides plan to return to court June 1.

Separately, Spell also faces an assault charge following claims that he almost hit a protester with his church bus — for which he has pleaded not guilty.

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