Campbell Co. pastor's snake handling case to go to grand jury

Campbell Co. pastor's snake handling case to go to grand jury

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More than a dozen of Hamblin's supporters met at his church before going to the courthouse. More than a dozen of Hamblin's supporters met at his church before going to the courthouse.
"I feel alright about it. There's nothing too big or too small that God can't handle," said Andrew Hamblin. "I feel alright about it. There's nothing too big or too small that God can't handle," said Andrew Hamblin.

By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

LAFOLLETTE (WATE) - The case of a Campbell County pastor and reality TV star cited for snake handling will go to a grand jury.

Pastor Andrew Hamblin appeared in court for a preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon as his supporters gathered around him.

Hamblin was cited last month for having dangerous wildlife. Fifty venomous snakes were seized from his church, The Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette.

Hamblin entered a not guilty plea a few days later.

Hamblin said he is fighting for his right to worship with snakes, calling it a civil rights battle.

More than a dozen of Hamblin's supporters met at his church before going to the courthouse. Some people even came in from other states to show support during the hearing.

In the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, members of the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette held a praise and worship service.

Pastor Hamblin said the midday fellowship was rare, but important to have before the court hearing.

"Nothing big, nothing special. We aren't making a battle plan or nothing. We are just out here to support one another and help each other," said Hamblin.

Hamblin has been taking up serpents in the name of faith for five years and says having the snakes taken away by authorities violated his freedom of religion.

"They walked into a church house and took the church's snakes right away from us, no different if they took our oil bottle. I don't think no kind of authority should walk into a Christian church and do that," he said.

Hamblin looks forward to the end of the case and hopes the court's decision will be in his favor.

"I feel alright about it. There's nothing too big or too small that God can't handle," said Hamblin.

During the hearing, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Sgt. Joe Durnin took the stand for over 90 minutes. He went to Hamblin's residence in November.

"I went over to the residence of Andrew Hamblin and asked him about his possession of his class one reptiles," said Durnin.

Sgt Durnin says he asked Hamblin if he still was involved with snakes. Durnin said Hamblin said yes.

"I asked if he could show us those snakes that he possessed, and he agreed to let us follow him down to the church," he said.

Sgt. Durnin testified that Hamblin unlocked the church and another room where the snakes were held.

He discovered 53 venomous snakes and made Hamblin aware he was in violation. He then cited him and seized the snakes.

"I think there were 28 copperheads and a couple of cottonmouths with that," he said.

The defense questioned why Durnin recorded Hamblin without his knowledge and why he even went over to Hamblin's residence in the first place, asking if the TWRA had prior evidence. Durnin said his captain sent him to the home.

The judge found probable cause to send the case to the grand jury, which is scheduled to meet on January 6.

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