Louisiana Megachurch Pastor Says Parishioner Did Not Die of Coronavirus, Despite What Coroner Says: 'That Is a Lie'

Rev. Tony Spell has reportedly denied that an elderly member of his Louisiana church died due to coronavirus, after Spell continued to hold packed services in defiance of public health restrictions meant to halt the spread of the virus.

A local coroner said that the 78-year old church member died on Wednesday due to complications from COVID-19. On Thursday, The Advocate reported that attorney Jeff Wittenbrink, who is on the legal team representing Spell's Life Tabernacle Church, was recently diagnosed with the virus after attending services at the church.

Spell disputed the coroner's findings, responding to local news outlet WAFB by saying, "That is a lie." He also described his fallen parishioner as one of his "right hand men" and a "great member of the church." The pastor has dismissed concerns about the virus, describing the pathogen as "politically motivated."

"It's not a concern. The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says," Spell told WAFB on March 17.

Wittenbrink is said to have been hospitalized since Tuesday, when he became seriously ill after contracting the virus. The attorney attended at least two events at the church this month, an April 2 press conference and a church service on April 5, although he says he doesn't know where he got the virus.

"I went to Albertson's twice a day. I went to Sam's. I went to Walmart. I went to Lowe's. I used the gas pumps. I mean I just wasn't careful. God knows where I got it. The bad thing is I might have spread to somebody. I feel bad about that, " Wittenbrink told The Advocate.

Tony Spell
Pastor Tony Spell speaks to the media after conducting in-person Easter services at his church in Central, Louisiana on April 12, 2020. Chris Graythen/Getty

The April 2 press conference also featured Roy Moore, the disgraced former judge who lost two bids for the U.S. Senate after being accused of multiple instances of sexually assaulting minors. The group defended Spell's decision remain open despite a stay-at-home order and ban on large gatherings from Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

"We've got to remember the First Amendment exists because we can worship God the way we want to." Moore said. "And no government can come in and tell you 'you can't assemble in church.'"

On Wednesday, Spell urged Americans to donate their coronavirus stimulus checks to American evangelists including himself, posting a video to YouTube asking for the money and attempting to popularize the hashtag #PastorSpellStimulusChallenge.

"I'm donating my entire stimulus, $1,200," Spell said. "My wife is donating her stimulus, $1,200. My son is donating his stimulus, $600."

Spell also recently insisted that his parishioners wouldn't mind dying as a result of attending his church, claiming that people who disagree support "tyranny."

"True Christians do not mind dying," Spell told TMZ.

Newsweek reached out to the Life Tabernacle Church for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.