KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A man has pleaded guilty to sending threats through the mail, including some directed at a well known Knoxville pastor and his family.
Justin Coleman pleaded guilty to posing as the owner of an auto body shop to send the letters with threatening and racially-charged language to East Tennessee African-Americans in an attempt to get them to retaliate against the body shop owner.
At least one of those letters was sent to Pastor Daryl Arnold of Overcoming Believers Church. The letter contained alleged threats to rape and kill his teenage daughter.
Arnold said he initially didn’t put much stock in the threats, but all that changed when the threats became directed at his daughter.
“Well initially, I kind of took it as though it wouldn’t be any. We would get them for maybe a year, maybe months. It was just kind of choppy here and now and it would go to the church so i didn’t’ really care. I would throw them into the garbage. I would discard them,” Arnold said.
Arnold said he felt it was important not to go public with the letters and let investigators do their work.
“I think part of it is that I wanted to make sure that our congregation and our community wasn’t worried about me. The Lord hadn’t called for people to worry about me. He’s called me to serve them and so I didn’t want to get in the way of that. And I just really felt that the Lord would take care of it, and I believe that he has,” said Pastor Arnold.
Arnold said the overriding message of his ordeal is that of forgiveness.
“This man is struggling with some emotional and mental issues and I think from a political perspective we probably need to address those. I’m a pastor and God has called me to help those who are hurting, even those who have hurt me or my family,” he said.
Arnold said the letters came out late last year, but finds the plea deal timing appropriate, even drawing parallels to the Easter story and threats made toward God’s son. He says he will continue to pray for Coleman and his family.