Pastor recalls night he was robbed in church parking lot

An attack in a church parking lot in June 2018 left one area pastor unconscious and another area man facing felony charges of conjoint robbery.

This was the story told to jurors Monday in the courtroom of District Judge Dennis Morris. 

Assistant District Attorney Aaron Taber alleged Allen Eldon Fox, 41, of Wilson, and another unidentified man were waiting in the parking lot of a rural Carter County church during the summer of 2018 when the church’s pastor arrived. After asking for assistance, prosecutors said Fox attacked the victim, striking him in the face — above the eye — then in the back of the neck, knocking him unconscious. 

The victim, who testified Monday, said he was returning home — which is located behind the church — when he noticed a vehicle in the parking lot with the hood open.

“They asked for a jump, but I didn’t have any jumper cables,” the victim said. “Then they asked if I could help figure out the problem.”

The victim said he left his vehicle to assist, looking under the hood of the vehicle when a comment made by the man he identified as Fox “made the hair stand up on the back of his neck,” prior to which he said he felt no ill-intent.

According to the prosecutor and the victim, the church had been targeted months earlier as an easy opportunity to steal gasoline. The gas thieves drilled holes in the gas tanks of the church’s van and bus, “draining the tanks dry.”

The victim said a comment about the stolen gas by his soon-to-be attacker is what initially tipped him off. Moments later, he was struck in the eye.

The victim, a military veteran, said his initial response to the assault was to step back, create distance and “square up” with his attacker. 

He said it was at that moment that another man exited the vehicle carrying a rifle, so he moved to try to close the gap between the armed man and himself. Moments later, a blow to the back of the neck left him unconscious, laying on the pavement.  

The victim said he woke up to see his wallet — now emptied of his bank cards and $560 — along with his ID scattered before him, and the previously stalled vehicle driving away.

Defense attorney James Gilmartin told jurors that while the attack was undeniable, police and the victim identified the wrong man. 

Gilmartin said early statements from the victim were precise in identifying the blue eyes of the attacker — which doesn’t match Fox’s eye color. He also pointed out other specific details like the make and model of the rifle allegedly brandished in the assault. He claimed that Carter County Sheriff’s deputies failed to do their due diligence in investigating other individuals later claimed to be present at a witness’ home, while accusing a former Healdton police officer of overstepping boundaries by getting involved in the investigation.

According to Gilmartin and a witness presented by the defense, two men were at the witness’ home the night deputies showed up to question Fox who lived in a trailer on the property.

The witness for the defense, a Wilson man identified as a friend and the owner of the property where Fox was staying, claimed the two men ran from the house and hid in the woods, something he wouldn’t tell officers until well into the investigation, and only after Fox had been detained on complaints of the robbery. He also claimed that Fox had been at the property during the time the assault occurred “working on a van.” Upon cross examination, the man admitted to not being sure of the timeline or the times when Fox was present, but said he was certain he was there during that time.

Gilmartin presented two previous suspects that he claimed better fit the description of the attacker, including eye color, both of which had been ruled out after the victim identified Fox through photo police lineups provided by deputies. 

Gilmartin also called into question earlier descriptions of the robbers that did not include any visible tattoos, alluding to the tattoo partially visible on the upper arm of the defendant while he was leaning forward onto the defense table.

The prosecution countered that the no-tattoo description applied to the driver and not to Fox.

A former Healdton police officer was also called to the witness stand. 

The officer — who claimed to have had prior interactions with Fox — said he saw Fox in the passenger seat of a vehicle matching the description given by the victim, adding that he followed the vehicle but had no cause to stop it.

He said he later saw deputies at Fox’s residence. The officer then informed deputies that he saw the defendant in the vehicle earlier that night and that the vehicle was known to frequent that location.

The officer also said he saw the vehicle on several occasions after the investigation began, but never reported it to deputies, nor did he make any attempt to follow up on the case.

Gilmartin questioned the officer’s ability to identify the passenger at an intersection late at night in Healdton to which the officer replied, “the intersection was well lit.”

The defense called a different deputy to the stand for questioning about the two individuals named as possible suspects. Gilmartin called the men “pretty dangerous guys,” to which the deputy agreed.” 

The trial is scheduled to continue today.